Focus on the Family

Managing Stress When Caregiving

Consider these suggestions to help ease the emotional and physical strain when you've become the caregiver.

by Carol Heffernan

Joan Johnson remembers when her parents started becoming dependent on their children. She remembers her brothers and sisters talking at length about their care options. A nursing home, an assisted-living facility, hiring in-home care.

Ultimately, family members chose to care for their parents themselves.

"We thought it would be easier than it was," says Joan. "My mother and father ended up needing 24-hour assistance, and while we were happy to do this, we should have been taking better care of ourselves. It was difficult, emotionally, to see them deteriorate, and the mounting responsibilities really took a toll."

Providing day-to-day and even minute-to-minute care for an aging parent can be tremendously stressful. Caregivers suffer symptoms so severe that they themselves become known as "hidden patients;" they fail to notice the signs of stress in their own lives.

When the attention is so focused on their parent, numerous and potentially harmful symptoms go unnoticed in the lives of the adult children. What's more, the warning signs of stress can attack so subtly that they're difficult to detect—and this can create a real danger.

Studies show that more than half of all caregivers suffer from depression, while the majority experience what's commonly referred to as "caregiver stress."

It's no wonder, considering many who care for a parent also juggle a multitude of responsibilities. Full-time jobs, parenting their own children and household duties all add to already high levels of stress. In the process, it's common for caregivers to put their own health, feelings and well-being aside. The results can be damaging: anxiety, sadness, guilt, and a whole host of physical ailments.

If you are in a caring for aging parents, recognize the warning signs, then deal with the stress immediately.

If you care for others, it is also imperative to make your own health a priority. Consider these suggestions:

It's worth noting that caring for an aging parent—while challenging—can have many positive effects on the whole family. There's an added sense of purpose, the ability to nurture an intergenerational bond and the knowledge that you're making a difference in the life of your parent.

Giving proper care and attention to yourself and your loved ones will create a healthier, happier environment sure to improve everybody's quality of life.