Prioritizing Mental Health For Caregivers

Two men high-fiving

As a parent or loved one ages, taking on the role of caregiver can add stress to an already busy life. On top of managing their own family, household and job, many people struggle with the added responsibilities that can come with caring for a parent or loved one. It can be especially difficult for those caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia.

And while there can be benefits – more time with that loved one, a deepening bond – the reality is that even with the best intentions, caregiving is difficult. And those challenges can have significant impacts on the mental health of caregivers.

The Emotional and Physical Demands of Caregiving

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), mental and physical health concerns are prevalent among caregivers:

  • 14.5% of caregivers reported 14 or more mentally unhealthy days in the previous month.
  • 17.6% of caregivers reported 14 or more physically unhealthy days in the previous month.
  • 36.7% of caregivers reported getting insufficient sleep.

The emotional impact of caregiving can often be the first thing many people consider when caring for a loved one. Some of those aspects might include:

  • Watching their loved one’s physical and/or cognitive health deteriorate
  • Dealing with the role reversal of taking over care for a parent
  • Managing doctors’ appointments and medications
  • Taking over their finances
  • Doing all of the above while still tending to family and career demands

But there is often a physical toll affecting caregivers as well, particularly if a loved one’s mobility has declined. In fact, according to the Family Caregiver Alliance, it’s the stress on the physical well-being of the caregiver that is often a primary reason families end up seeking assisted living. Some of those impacts include:

  • Helping them up after a fall, and tending to any injuries they may suffer
  • Helping them get in and out of bed or chairs
  • Assisting them with bathing or toileting
  • Pushing a wheelchair
  • Lack of time to exercise properly
A young woman helping an elderly woman up a staircase

Signs Of Mental Health Struggles in Caregivers

If you’re juggling caregiving, family and work, it’s likely that you’re just trying to get through the day. Often, at the end of the night, you might already be thinking of what lies ahead of you tomorrow. That said, it’s vital to check in with yourself regularly and see if you’re approaching burnout.

Similarly, if someone close to you has seen an increase in responsibility with caregiving added to their plate, here are signs to look for that mental health could be suffering:

  • Increased irritability, depression, resentment or anxiety
  • Feelings of helplessness or hopelessness
  • Deterioration in physical health
  • Less energy than usual
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Less time spent on leisure activities or social outings
  • Increase in risky behaviors, such as smoking, drinking alcohol or drug use

Strategies For Promoting Mental Health in Caregivers

In identifying the risks and symptoms of stress in caregivers, the next question is this: what are the options to make a change?

In seeking to improve your mental health while caregiving, there are a variety of ideas that can be helpful:

Ask For Help

If you’re caring for an aging parent and have siblings or other family nearby, try to separate the work evenly. Even if one person does most of the hands-on caregiving, perhaps someone else can handle finances, or laundry, grocery shopping or any of the other day-to-day tasks. Taking anything off your plate can be a relief.

However, if any family you have who can help don’t live nearby, perhaps they take a week or two periodically to come visit and help out as much as they can.

Talk It Out

Whether you have help nearby or not, every caregiver needs an outlet for their frustration and stress. It can be especially beneficial when it’s not a family member, with whom you may be struggling to divide the tasks or disagree with over care.

If you have a supportive friend you can lean on, go out for coffee and let them in to what’s happening. Or, find a support group for caregivers – they can be a terrific place to find understanding and community among people who know what you’re going through.

Make Time For Fitness

We know: you have a lot on your plate already, and trying to carve out time to exercise might seem like a luxury. But if you’re able, it should be considered a necessity. Fitness is widely viewed as an important component of mental health; according to the Mayo Clinic, exercise releases feel-good endorphins and takes your mind off worries. Even 30 minutes a day can make a big impact on your mental health as well as your physical well-being.

Find The Fun

Amid the to-do lists and the care for your loved one’s health, it doesn’t have to be all work. Try to carve out time every day to do something fun with your loved one. That could include cards or board games, people watching at the mall, a movie, or even watching Jeopardy nightly and engaging in some friendly competition. Having something to look forward to is a key element of mental health, and those moments can build the bond between you and your loved one.

Celebrate the Victories

The days can be long and run together, so it’s important to celebrate the victories when they occur. Maybe you helped your loved one beat a cold or flu. Maybe you had a great day together. Maybe he or she told you how much they appreciate all you’re doing for them. Or maybe you beat them at cribbage. Whatever constitutes a victory in your caregiving journey, celebrate and honor it. Although don’t go overboard gloating about the cribbage wins.

Give Yourself Grace

Remind yourself every day: you’re doing your best. You won’t get everything right. There will be wrong decisions and bad days along the way. But as long as you’re doing what you think is best, doing the best you can, and leading with your heart, it’s all anyone can ask of you, including yourself.

Respite Stays

If you need to take time away from caregiving to tend to your own medical situation, a vacation, or simply just to take a break, contact a Prestige Senior Living community near you. Many communities offer respite stays, a short-term occupancy at the community.

Your loved one will enjoy all the amenities the residents take part in, including fitness programming, events and restaurant-quality dining. In many cases, the aging loved one, and the caregiver, realize that assisted living can be the best solution for everyone.

Let Prestige Senior Living Help 

Happy hours. Day trips. Wii bowling.

They’re just a few of the ways Prestige helps residents celebrate life at every age.

As noted above, many Prestige communities offer respite stays, which are a great way for your loved one to experience what life is like with us. They can take part in innovative fitness programming, fun events and meet new friends while enjoying compassionate care from a dedicated team.

It can be a great way for you as a caregiver to reset, take a break and tend to your own needs for a while. Respite stays can be a great first step if you’re pondering the long-term future or are just taking a much-deserved vacation. Contact the community nearest you to learn more and schedule a visit.