Performing as the sole caregiver for an elderly relative or a dependent family member can take a serious toll on the mental health and well-being of the caregiver, no matter how much you love them. The caregiver must be resilient, strong, and above all else, caring in the face of adversity.
But when the caregiving comes to an end, there can be thousands of unanswered questions. What do I do now? How can I move on without them? Who else can I help?
All across the United States, over 15 million citizens work as unpaid primary caregivers for family members with Alzheimer’s or symptoms of dementia. These individuals work tirelessly to take care of family members without the financial support necessary to take on the emotional, physical, and financial burden this type of care necessitates.
This includes the caregivers for veterans. The changes witnessed in the personalities and health of Vietnam and Iraq War veterans can take an emotional toll on families across the country, yet thousands of caregivers are not getting benefits to take care of the individuals who need their help.
The VA Mission Act was signed into action by President Trump in early June, marking an expansion for the benefits received by VA members. Supposedly, this act will help caregivers to veterans who have experienced severe injury as a result of their service when they Vietnam War ended. However, the lack of funding may turn this reality back into a dream.
Issues regarding miscommunication and funding leaves vital programs for veterans $55 million short.
Vietnam War veterans are just some of the individuals who have relied on the security of unpaid caregivers since the 1970s. Though up to 95.4% of U.S. citizens participate in a form of charitable donation, these numbers are still not enough to support the countless individuals that require necessary treatment.
Though the burden is supposed to lessen once the caregiver is relieved of their duties, dealing with the psychological effects of post-care can be more difficult; the stress of adjusting to a new way of life can pose a challenge for the mental health and wellbeing of countless caregivers across the nation.
When their job is finally done — whether their loved one passes on or is moved to a nursing home or support facility — it can seem like the caregiver is lost, devoid of direction with no one to take care of. After all, they’ve been doing it for so long: what’s next?
After a caregiver is relieved of their duties, depression symptoms typically rise, not fall as one may expect.
Though the caregiver may have experienced significant amounts of stress while taking care of their loved one, the stress can multiply following the death of that loved one.
A recent survey conducted by the University of Colorado Denver concluded that it’s of vital importance that caregivers seek outside help, including maintaining friendships and relationships, to ease the psychological burden that comes with being a caregiver. Avram, a chief researcher on this study, notes the importance of creating security outside of the caregiver role.
“We know that things like scheduling, finances, emotional burden of caring for a patient with cancer, those can all have a toll on how you perceive your own health, so, (caregivers should continue) working to maintain those relationships and positive things in your life, and continue to bolster yourself as a person who is going through this adverse experience,” said Avram.
Whether your loved one is experiencing symptoms of Alzheimer’s or is going through PTSD, caregivers need to take care of themselves while they’re taking care of others.