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Family Caregivers: Recognizing a Labor of Love

Monday, September 18 is Respect For The Aged Day, an annual Japanese festival and national holiday whereby people celebrate by spending time with elderly friends and relatives. This is a time to respect elders within the community as a way to thank them for their contributions to society and to celebrate their long lives. It may be celebrated in Japan, but we thought we would take this time to recognize the labor of love for family caregivers who are tasked with caring for their elderly parents, spouses, etc. Here at Pathways, we know how important senior care in Alameda County and elsewhere is, so let’s give some love to those who care for others.

America’s Invisible Helpers

It’s been said that caregivers are America’s invisible helpers, often giving up their jobs, retirement savings, and even their own health to be there for their ailing family members, says Kiplinger. One study found that caregivers on average sacrifice $300,000 or more in lifetime earnings due to lost wages, Social Security, and retirement benefits, often leading to self-neglect and burnout. While we do all we can to ensure our loved ones eat right, get exercise, and have a better emotional well-being, it’s those same caregivers who often neglect all of those things for themselves.

Caregivers do try to cobble together help from other family members, offset by paid services such as home health aides and community services like Meals on Wheels. But the burden still falls on the family caregiver to direct and organize those services. According to the Family Caregiver Alliance, the average family caregiver is 49 years old, with a third being 65 and older. Many caregivers don’t just care for one person: they care for multiple people. In the case of the sandwich generation, people in their 40s and 50s are caring for aging parents as well as their own children and families.

This all comes at a cost, but not one that is usually reimbursable in hard dollars to family caregivers. This unpaid labor benefits their families, to be sure, but it also benefits the entire nation. Think of it this way: if every family caregiver decided to go on vacation for a year tomorrow, the system would have to generate $357 billion to replace what family caregivers do out of love.

Positive Aspects of Caregiving

One survey by the National Opinion Research Center revealed that 83 percent of caregivers view this role as being a positive experience. Positive experiences include a sense of giving back to a person (usually a parent) who cared for them when they were small; the satisfaction of knowing their loved one is receiving personalized and attentive care; personal growth; and increased purpose in one’s life.

Caregiving can also be a positive form of coping with stressful situations and circumstances, as they are able to find meaning through positive affirmations, spiritual beliefs, and other adaptive coping mechanisms when faced with stress, according to the American Psychological Association. Positive caregivers have reported lower levels of depression and a higher sense of satisfaction and well-being. Of course, many caregivers have both psychological satisfaction and emotional distress at the same time.

Burnout: An Inevitable Consequence

Caregiver burnout is a very real thing, and it’s quite common. In fact, studies show that at least 60 percent of caregivers experience burnout symptoms. Caregiver burnout is a state of physical, mental, and emotional exhaustion that occurs while taking care of someone else. Stressed caregivers often experience anxiety, depression, and fatigue. Caregiver burnout can affect many aspects of your life: socially, physically, psychologically, and financially. The Cleveland Clinic equates burnout to feeling like a candle that has run out of wick and does not have the fuel it needs to continue to give off light. This often creeps up on you and can come on suddenly for those who devote all of their time and energy to helping another person.

Remember: your health and well-being are just as important as the one you’re caring for. Know the signs and symptoms of caregiver burnout so you will be able to seek the help you need. Symptoms include:

  • Physical and emotional exhaustion
  • Withdrawal from friends and family
  • Loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities
  • Feelings of hopelessness and helplessness
  • Changes in appetite or weight
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Irritability, anger, or frustration toward others
  • Getting sick more often

Caregiver burnout occurs when you devote a large part of your time, resources, and energy to taking care of others and you end up neglecting your own needs. Failing to care for your physical, mental, and emotional health can impact how you complete your personal responsibilities.

Contact Pathways Home Health and Hospice

Here at Pathways, we are all about senior care. We love our seniors, and our staff and volunteers work hard to ensure they are appreciated and respected. We also know how hard family caregivers work and want to give a shout-out to all of you too! Contact us today at 888-978-1306 to learn more about our offerings.