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By Lori Daugherty, CEO, IMCS Group
Before the pandemic, in the United States, one-in-five people served one or more people as an unpaid or informal caregiver. According to the 2020 AARP report of Caregiving in the U.S., this staggering statistic has increased in the last five years from 43.5 million to 53 million caregivers, consisting of friends and family who tend to parents, spouses, children and friends in need of physical, medical or emotional care, including the mentally or physically disabled. With the COVID-19 crisis, these numbers are destined rise due to the increase in post-COVID patients requiring care and numbers of families motivated to keep care in-home instead of risking a healthcare facilty.
Providing personal care, medication, food, time and emotional support, often in their own home, informal caregivers offer free care as a labor of love, out of loyalty to a loved one, due to a shortage of available area healthcare services, cost concern or both. The care received by informal caregivers is unparalleled. Those in home care enjoy the comforts of home, the companionship of family and friends and the knowledge that their health is in good hands. This arrangement is also appreciated by the caregiver. Most caregivers admit to a sense of purpose in the work they do, with one report showing the majority of family caregivers express satisfaction in their role. However, despite these positive aspects, nearly a third of caregivers find their responsibility stressful and even those more content in their role experience being overwhelmed at times.
It cannot be ignored that the rigors of caring for another’s needs on a continual basis is physically, mentally and emotionally taxing, as the needs of the patient supplant those of the caregiver. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America reports that 40-70% of caregivers exhibit symptoms of depression and that nearly half evince signs of major depression. A condition known as “caregiver burnout,” severe disruption of the caregiver’s physical and behavioral wellbeing is often due to one or more of the following:
- Sacrificing personal time
- Caring for patients with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease
- Physically straining the body due to caring for patients with mobility problems
- Losing a sense of privacy if living with the patient
- Rising financial problems if caregiving precludes full-time employment
- Compounding stress and risk of illness if caregiving interrupts sleep
- Caregiver believing that they must care for their loved one, while simultaneously feeling guilty that their caregiving skills are lacking
- Abandoning outside activities and offers to socialize, increasing the likelihood of depression
Experienced by most caregivers at some point, caregiver burnout is not uncommon and usually stems from caregivers supplanting their own health and needs with those of the patient. A report by the National Alliance for Caregiving (NAC) and AARP shows that 21% of family caregivers admit they are in fair to poor health, and 23% say their health has worsened while being a caregiver. Common signs of burnout include achiness, fatigue, headaches, loss of appetite, inability to sleep, short temper, loss of focus, worry and anxiety. It is important to note that burnout can also include feelings of isolation and discouragement and if not addressed, may result in physical, emotional and/or mental exhaustion.
The caregiver’s physical and mental health is paramount, and these alarming statistics demonstrate the need for opportunities by which caregivers may take a respite to eschew a precarious health situation:
- Create a daily schedule to structure time, prioritize and set realistic goals
- Set goals to exercise or meditate daily to stay healthy and relieve stress
- Eat, stay hydrated and get enough sleep
- Stay connected to others via text, phone, video chat or join a caregiver support group
- Ask for help from a friend or family member who could help with chores or caregiving duties
- Don’t take on everything. Hire help (even if only occasionally) for things like grocery or meal delivery, lawn and house cleaning services
- Set aside time to recharge mentally by hiring a professional caregiver for a day. Then spend a day doing something enjoyable: get a massage, go out for dinner, visit a museum or even an amusement park
A rewarding yet challenging experience, caregiving ensures loved ones receive the devoted and compassionate care they deserve. Yet, the significant stressors that accompany this labor of love cannot be ignored. It should be recognized that the caregiver’s physical, mental and emotional health is paramount and ultimately contingent on their ability to successfully meet the needs of the patient.
About Lori Daugherty
Loraine Daugherty is Chief Executive Officer at Integrated Medical Case Solutions (IMCS) Group where she provides analytical decision-making, strategic planning and executive leadership. As CEO, she is focused on developing best practices for organizational processes, performance measurement systems and building IMCS’s infrastructure to maximize the company’s growth. With more than 30 years of industry experience in workers’ compensation, Ms. Daugherty also has professional expertise in Medicaid, Medicare Part B, third-party contracting, administration, client services and operations. Known for her exceptional leadership style and professional savvy for cultivating high-performance teams, Ms. Daugherty was recruited to implement an enterprise growth strategy and maximize business results for IMCS. Prior to joining IMCS, she worked with both private and public entities and has a track record of successful launches of early-stage healthcare companies as well as successful exits to strategic and public entities.