As the population continues to age, at an unprecedented rate according to the United Nations, the need for caregivers grows, as well, especially within the family. It’s a selfless job that comes with emotional and physical strain. Today, family members are taking on the role of informal caregivers to keep elderly parents and spouses safe and comfortable while still trying to get a little quality of life for themselves.
The Office of Women’s Health reports that 36 percent of caregivers in the U.S. are unpaid and that number will continue to rise. In addition, one in five of these family caregivers must maintain full-time employment while remaining responsible for a disabled parent or spouse. It’s a job that many will tell you is rewarding but stressful. A caregiver is literally “on call” day and night — 365 days a year. Finding ways to manage the stress is part of the job, too, though, but how?
Learning to Recognize Caregiver Stress
The first step in any strategy to manage caregiver stress is recognition that a problem exists. What does this stress look like anyway? How does it feel? There is no right or wrong answer to those questions because stress manifests itself in many different ways with each person. Some common symptoms to watch for include:
- Being overwhelmed
- Feeling isolated
- Change in sleeping habits
- Unplanned changes in weight or eating habits
- Feeling lonely
- Disinterest in normal activities or things you enjoy
- Irritation or moodiness
Ignoring the stress can lead to health problems for the caregiver such as more colds, high blood pressure and panic attacks.
Tips for Relieving Caregiver Stress
It starts with establishing a working support system for the caregiver. For many that will mean assigning duties to other members of the family like siblings or adult children. It’s important for the caregiver to have a break now and then along with some time to take care of his or herself. Even a daily walk and little solitude will help.
The support system doesn’t have to stop at family, though. In today’s high tech world, caregivers can look for digital support, too. Start by setting up a coordinating care website for family and friends via social media. This is a portal for people outside the home to go for information and to find ways to help. What supplies do you need, for example? How about setting up a schedule that gives the primary caregiver time off? A calendar on the site can allow others to sign up for shifts. You can schedule social time for the person under care, too. Maybe a grandchild wants to take grandma out for lunch or an old friend would like to go for a walk.
How Technology Provides Security
One of the most powerful technologic resources at your disposal is the medical alert system. These systems improve security and also freedom for both the caregiver and the person under their care. They make calling for help simply a matter of pushing a button. Some systems even provide video monitoring or lack of motion alerts for caregivers who can’t be there 24 hours a day.
By signing up for a medical alert system, you provide contact information to a company that is there in an emergency. This allows them to send EMS, the police or even the caregiver if needed. The medical alert company can call the neighbor and have them check in on an aging parent, too. Often the system comes with GPS tracking, as well, for the aging parent who is still mobile enough to walk the neighborhood or even drive a car.
More Technological Solutions for Caregivers
Caregivers can turn to technology to help manage medications, to order groceries and other supplies, to speak face to face with a primary physician or nurse and to go online for much needed emotional support. They can interact with other caregivers via forums or social media to ask questions and find resources.
Technology has a role to play in the life of caregivers. It may be the key to:
- Staying healthy
- Being safe
- Keeping in touch
- Being one step ahead on everything
- Keeping strong
It’s not an easy job, but it’s one that can be made better in almost every way through the magic of digital technology. Whether you are looking for a medical alert system to help an adult parent maintain their freedom or need more resources to keep you sane, you are likely to find a solution when you stay plugged in through technology.