Taking care of my mother for nine years taught me about caregiver stress. My mother had progressive dementia and, as the years passed, she turned into a stranger. I didn't know her any more. Though my husband often helped with caregiving tasks, most of the responsibilities were mine. Caregiving became a lonely experience.
"Many caregivers do most or all of the caregiving for a loved one alone," according to the Elder Independence of Maine Website. The organization lists the warning signs of stress in its article, "The Stresses of Caregiving." The signs of stress include denial, anger, social withdrawal, anxiety, depression, exhaustion, sleeplessness, irritability, lack of concentration, and personal health problems.
The Alzheimer's Association lists the same signs in a Website article, "Caregiver Stress." According to the article, "Too much stress can be damaging to both a caregiver and the person with Alzheimer's." This comment also applies to those who are caring for someone with sudden or chronic illness. I had all of the signs of caregiving, but anxiety was the worst. My anxiety could be divided into four parts.
1. Financial anxiety. I moved my mother to Minnesota and found a senior housing apartment for her. After she moved in I discovered she had been defrauded of $50,000 and her remaining money was almost gone. But she continued to spend money at an alarming rate. In fact, she became an addictive spender. Needless to say, I worried about her spending constantly.
2. Behavior anxiety. My mother became an angry, unpredictable person. She had a fist fight with one of the senior housing residents and stole a teddy bear from another. She put a can of soda in the microwave and it caught fire and melted. She went for a walk, fell down and injured her shoulder so badly that surgeons had to install a new socket. "What will happen next?" became the question of the day.
3. Anticipatory grief anxiety. On a snowy, sub-zero night she called to tell me she was running away. Her plan was to return to Long Island and stay with friends. Unfortunately, all of her friends had died. So I called her doctor and he transferred her to nursing care. She lived there for several years and the day I dreaded finally came. My mother didn't recognize family members or me. Each morning I wondered if this would be the day she died.
4. Personal anxiety. I was so immersed in caregivng that I didn't take good care of myself. Physically run down, I was susceptible to colds, flu, and strep throat. During nine years of caregiving I gained 25 pounds. The weight gain was embarrassing and I wondered if I would be able to shed the extra pounds.
If you have several signs of stress, act on your behalf now. Don't risk burn out. According to a WebMD article, "Heart Disease: Recognizing Caregiver Burnout," caregivers who have burn out "may experience fatigue, stress, anxiety and depression." Other signs of burnout include a lack of interest in activities, weight gain/loss, getting sick often, physical and emotional exhaustion.
To care for others you must care for yourself. Whether it is reading, listening to music, or going for a walk, try to do something for yourself each day. Difficult as it can be, caregiving is an expression of love, and you can give yourself credit for that.
Copyright 2009 by Harriet Hodgson
Harriet Hodgson has been an independent journalist for 30 years. She is a member of the American Society of Journalists and Authors, the Association of Health Care Journalists, and the Association for Death Education and Counseling. Her 24th book, "Smiling Through Your Tears: Anticipating Grief," written with Lois Krahn, MD, is available from Amazon.
Centering Corporation in Omaha, Nebraska has published her 26th book, "Writing to Recover: The Journey from Loss and Grief to a New Life." The company has also published a companion resource, the "Writing to Recover Journal," which contains 100 writing prompts. Please visit Harriet's Website and learn more about this busy author and grandmother.
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