Older Caregivers Face Extra Risks
Most of us hope and expect to "take it easy" in our senior years. But, according to 2007 figures from Statistics Canada, at least 675,000 Canadian seniors have had to curtail travel, leisure and personal interests - and have put themselves at risk for physical and emotional problems - because they are providing care to another senior.
They could be looking after close friends (30%), spouses (23%), neighbours (15%) - even parents (9%). One third of these seniors are over the age of 75.
Less than one in five older caregivers gets a break from these responsibilities. Without help from family, community or private services, caregiver burnout - physical and emotional exhaustion due to prolonged high levels of stress - is almost inevitable. Not only can physical health problems multiply, but mental health issues, such as feelings of powerlessness, resentment, and isolation, can compromise a caregiver's well-being.
Most of these seniors may not think of themselves as caregivers, but that's exactly what they become when they take responsibility to help others with their daily needs.
Caregivers are from all walks of life and income levels. They are predominantly female but increasing numbers of men are taking on the role. But what they often share in common is stepping unaware and unprepared into a demanding role.
Caregiving responsibilities can occur suddenly, but they typically become chronic, and they don't always have a happy outcome. Responsibilities can continue even when the person receiving the care moves from a private home to an institution.
Older caregivers are up against more challenges than their younger counterparts. They are unlikely to have the strength and energy of a younger person. Older caregivers may have to manage their own chronic health problems (e.g., high blood pressure, diabetes or arthritis) while caring for another. Doing yard work, shoveling snow, or going up and down the stairs with the laundry basket may be more than they can handle.
Other caregiver duties can be mentally demanding. Managing finances, scheduling appointments, and other household decisions take more time and energy as you age. Conflicting emotions can drain energy as well, particularly when the personal relationships between caregiver and care recipient are strained.
Caregiving for a spouse can be especially demanding. The marital relationship is more intense, private and personal than many. A spouse's illness results in greater stress, yet spouses are less likely to ask for help from others. Often, there's a belief that what is happening should be kept private.
Without greater awareness, understanding and action, more seniors will run the risk of burnout, which can lead to physical and mental collapse. That has significant implications for families, communities and our health care system.
For more insight on this topic, purchase our new downloadable e-publication:
Caregiver Burnout - How To Spot It, How To Stop It
Home Care for Seniors
Vol. 5, No. 6
© ElderWise Publishing 2009.
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Originally published by ElderWise Publishing, a division of ElderWise Inc. We provide clear, concise and practical direction to Canadians with aging parents. Visit us at http://elderwise.ca/ and subscribe to our FREE e-newsletter.