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How to deal with caregiver stress

Caring for an aging family member is a labor of love and studies show the effects it can have on the caregiver -- emotionally, physically, even financially.

Research conducted by MetLife revealed that approximately 10 million adult children over the age of 50 (that's roughly a quarter of all Baby Boomers!) have taken on the role of caregiver for their aging parents. They're helping with a variety of tasks – everything from running errands and cooking to bathing and using the toilet. It's a lot to take on, especially for caregivers who may also be juggling a career and their own children.

A few noteworthy stats from the study:

• Adult daughters are more likely to provide help with daily care, and sons are more likely to provide monetary assistance.

• The total estimated aggregate lost wages, pension, and Social Security benefits of these adult-child caregivers is nearly $3 trillion.

Yet despite all of these physical and financial drawbacks, the adult-child-as-caregiver trend continues to grow rapidly in the United States. The MetLife study showed that the number of adult children providing personal care and/or financial assistance to an aging parent has more than tripled over the past 15 years.

Caring for the caregiver

If you've chosen to care for your aging parent (or if you had no other option), there are ways to alleviate some of the stress. Here are a few recommendations:

Prioritize your health

You can't take care of someone else if you’re not healthy yourself. A lot of elements fall under this category, but the short list would include:

• Getting sufficient sleep, which also means laying off the caffeine. 

• Eating healthfully, either by preparing healthy meals at home or finding local restaurants or meal delivery services that can provide nutritious food.

• Exercising, even if it just means taking 15 minutes to walk around the block once or twice a day.

• Going to the doctor (and dentist) to ensure you stay on top of any medical issues that might arise.

• Taking time away from your caregiving duties without feeling guilty about it; everyone needs an occasional day off!

Get organized

There are only so many hours in your day, and caring for an elderly loved one can eat up a lot of time, so find an organization system that works for you and your family. Perhaps it is a large calendar where you and other family members denote appointments and events. Maybe it means prioritizing "extracurricular" activities and dropping a few that aren't as important. Or it could be that a "to-do" list–either on paper or an app on your smartphone–saves you time and headaches. Whatever you choose, find a system that works for you.

Talk about it

The anxiety associated with caregiving is up there with the stress people experience with new babies, career changes, deaths, and other major life moments. Talking to a trained therapist about the pressure, anger, and other emotions your feel as a result of caregiving can be a welcome release. There are also numerous support groups offered for caregivers where you can find other people who are going through the same thing as you and can offer advice and emotional support. Family Caregiver Alliance and the Alzheimer's Association offer online support groups, as well as several in-person groups.

Consider your options

If you agreed to provide care for an aging parent but then realized it's too much to handle, is good to understand all of your choices. A few to consider:

• Assistive technologies can help seniors in a variety of ways and also give their families peace of mind if they are not physically with their loved one. There are digital devices and computer programs that can do things like help keep track of when to take medications, convert e-books into larger type, monitor when doors open and close (even the refrigerator and microwave door), or get immediate help in an emergency.

• A home-health aide can come to your/your loved one's home for several hours a day to assist with medical and non-medical needs.

• Adult daycare facilities will supervise your loved one for four or five hours a day. Some of these facilities offer activities like music, art, and exercise. It is important to note that if your loved one has long-term care insurance, it may cover some of this expense.

• Assisted living facilities provide seniors with help for daily living activities such as preparing meals, housekeeping, and personal care. While most assisted living facilities have residents who are there for the long-term, some facilities also offer short-term stays (also known as respite care). Long-term care insurance may cover some of this cost too.

It's like they say on an airplane: be sure to put your own oxygen mask on before helping those around you. Caring for an aging parent or family member is stressful, but you have to be sure to take care of yourself too.

If you educate yourself about the various support options that are available to you and your family, you can improve quality of life for both you and the people you care for.

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