In the world of caregiving, stress, anger and sometimes even depression go along with the duties of taking care of aging relatives. Caregivers need to take heed of any drastic or ongoing changes in mood or health. If you’re feeling angry, lonely or sad for long periods of time, it could be a case of depression, not uncommon in caregiving situations.
It’s not that the act of caring for an elderly relative causes depression. It’s not that everyone who takes on the role of caregiver will suffer this, but it is something to be aware of. The effort that it takes to care for an elderly loved one, especially if you’re in the midst of raising your own family and working full time can be daunting and lead to overwhelm and frustration. Trying to “do it all” can result in the feelings of isolation, exhaustion, anger and anxiety and these also lead to the caregiver feeling guilty for even having these emotions. In some cases, adults take on the role of caring for their aging parents as a way to “give back” but end up feeling resentful of taking care of the very individual who raised him or her. Be aware that if you are suffering depression, taking a day or two off will help lessen the feelings but you can’t simply “snap out of” it. The symptoms need to be addressed and in many instances you will need to ask for help, either from a mental health professional or from a friend or family member if you can enlist them to help share the burden of the caregiving tasks.
While you may not be able to completely stave off depression, paying careful attention to the symptoms are a good start. How can you do this? Though paying attention to diet, getting exercise, caring for yourself, taking time off and enlisting the help and support of friends and family. Your family may not be aware that you are suffering the strains of caregiving and unless you speak up, they will remain in the dark.
“Feeling down” may be a precursor to depression, but if you’re not sure, here are some symptoms to be aware of:
- Feeling constantly tired
- Loss of interest in activities you once enjoyed
- Change in eating habits that lead to weight gain or weight loss
- Being quick to anger or frustration at minor irritations
- The feeling that nothing you do for your parents is “good enough”
- Ongoing physical symptoms that will not respond to treatment. Suffering chronic pain or digestive orders
- At the extreme end of the spectrum are thoughts of suicide
Some of the reason caregivers suffer stress and depression is the fact that they may not feel appreciated for all they are doing to help their elderly relatives. Add to this the difficulties that come from dealing with an adult parent that is suffering dementia and it’s been found that this situation means the caregiver is twice as likely to suffer depression than a caregiver taking care of a relative without dementia. The reason for this is that caring for a relative with dementia can be an all-consuming 24 hour a day task.
The reason for the increased risk of depression in those caring for parents with dementia is that this type of caregiving can be almost all consuming. Individuals suffering dementia may exhibit symptoms such as agitation, unwarranted anger, wandering off, hoarding and inappropriate actions and this makes it more difficult for the caregiver than “typical” caregiving issues. These caregivers likely provide more hours per week of care, likely need to take more time off from work and deal with higher levels of mental stress and physical health issues. When you add to the mix that when dealing with a parent with dementia you feel you’re “not appreciated” it can contribute to the depressive feelings caregivers undergo.
Addressing symptoms of depression
What do you do if you think you’re suffering depression? You need to track your symptoms and contact a physician. It may not be easy to admit you have depression so when you visit your doctor describe your symptoms and the outside stressors you’re experiencing with caregiving; chances are your doctor will be able to read between the lines.
What will your doctor do for you?
The first step in addressing depression is to visit your doctor who may refer you to a mental health professional. Your doctor may prescribe medications to treat the condition and may also prescribe other lab tests.
What can you do for yourself?
- The number one item is to ask for help. Ask for help from family members. Ask for help from your doctor.
- Take time away from caregiving. If you don’t have a friend or relative that lives close by, look into hiring a home healthcare worker to relieve you.
- Equip the home and your parents with a medical alert device. These devices can be lifesavers when you’re not in attendance and offer peace of mind beyond compare
- Break large tasks into smaller ones – for example if you need to clean the house, do the yard work, cook the meals, etc. Ask for help or do a little at a time
- Make time for physical exercise, this not only clears your head and gives you perspective but being physically active benefits everyone
- Talk to a trusted friend about what you’re going through. You may feel guilty at your frustrated feelings toward the role of caregiver, but remember it is natural
- Spend time with friends
- Get your parents involved in adult day care activities as a way to allow them to socialize and to allow you time off knowing they are in good hands
Caregiving is a stressful undertaking and anyone who might tell you differently has likely never been in the situation before. You need to be kind to yourself so that you can give your best to your relatives.