Care giving can be a lonely task. Just you and your loved one alone in the house, day after day. Few others to talk to, and maybe no one around who truly understands what it is you are going through. Care giving can send your emotions on a roller coaster ride -- in any 24-hour period you can experience fear, rage, hope, sadness, humor, grief, bravery, fatigue, dedication and be overwhelmed with love.
It may come as no surprise, therefore, to hear that caring can play havoc with the caregiver's own physical, emotional and psychological well-being. A recent study in the prestigious Journal of the American Medical Association discovered that people caring for elderly spouses are more likely to die early as a result of the toll taken on their own lives.
Have you reached caregiver burnout?
Caregiver stress and overwork can lead to what is known as 'caregiver burnout.' This is when you are beyond exhaustion, when you are drained of all physical, spiritual and emotional reserves, when you feel as though you just can't go on one minute longer. If you reach this stage, you are at danger of ending up with two people who need care: your loved one, who depends on you for daily basic needs, and yourself.
Support groups offer a safe space
So what steps can you take to ensure you don't reach caregiver burnout? Support groups are becoming more and more popular. They offer a safe place to share emotions and experiences, seek and give advice, and exchange practical information with others. Support groups can be found for like-minded people experiencing all sorts of situations, from those suffering from certain diseases to those for gamblers and over-eaters.
You're not alone. . .
Support groups help you see that your situation is not unique, that you are not alone in your feelings and experiences. Just as importantly, you can use support groups as a resource to find other people who have struggled with the same problems as you and have found answers. As a caregiver, you may begin to rely more on your informal networks and peer groups for support than healthcare professionals.
How to find a support group
Support groups can be found through a number of sources:
- Ask other caregivers you know if they go to any groups; word of mouth is often the easiest way.
- Check local chapters of disease-specific organizations, such as the Alzheimer's Association or the Multiple Sclerosis Society.
- Contact the American Self-Help Clearinghouse
- Ask your local religious service agencies.
- Contact your Area Agency on Aging
- Talk to the social service department of your hospital.
- The Well Spouse Foundation (800-838-0879) has a list of available support groups. Contact this organization directly to find the one nearest you.
- Children of Aging Parents - National Self-Help Clearing House (212-354-8525) also keeps a current list of support groups for caregivers.