Caregiver’s Stress Syndrome: Let’s Start Talking About It

If they ever submitted a bill for service, it would come to over $450 billion. That’s how much work is contributed every year by the nation’s unpaid health caretakers.

On any given day, almost 66 million Americans are providing informal health care to ill, aged or disabled patients. Usually it’s for a family member, and typically they live under the same roof. The caretaking work often amounts to a full-time job. They put in an average of 39.3 hours per week, while well over half of these caretakers hold down outside jobs as well, many of which are full-time. On top of it all, over 13 million of them are also caring for their own children at the same time.

The situation is presenting our society with a severe health problem, and we’re not referring to the health of the patient; it’s the health of the person caring for the patient. We’re talking about the mental and physical deterioration of overburdened caretakers. The toll it is taking on them has become so pervasive that the nation’s health profession is beginning to recognize it as a serious issue. They have named it Caregiver’s Stress Syndrome.
Studies show that the syndrome is most acute when caretakers are dealing with a patient who has behavioral difficulties– incontinence, memory issues, sleep problems, wandering, bouts of aggression. These can take an enormous emotional toll on the caretaker, especially since the patient is so often a dear family member. The symptoms worsen, yet no amount of loving care is ever enough to make the patient whole again. Another difficulty: it can go on and on…for years and years.

The symptoms of this kind of chronic, unyielding stress may vary, but medical professionals have isolated the most typical:

  • Fatigue
  • Insomnia
  • Stomach complaints
  • Slow wound healing
  • An increased risk of cardiovascular disease
  • An increased susceptibility to infection
  • Humeral and cellular immune dysfunction
  • High antibody titers to common viruses
  • Adrenal exhaustion
  • Altered catecholamine, steroid and hormone levels
  • Disruptions in the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis

Not surprisingly, the most common presenting issue is depression. Almost 70% of caretakers suffer from it. Additionally, caretakers are much more apt to suffer from high blood pressure, diabetes and a compromised immune system.
The mission of Midnight Sun Home Care is to provide relief and respite to overburdened caretakers and address this very real issue of the toll taken by Caretaker’s Stress Syndrome. We are concerned that the issue has yet to become a larger part of a national conversation. We see the feelings of guilt and inadequacy caused by this lack of awareness. All too often we see that caretakers struggle in isolation as their emotional and physical health deteriorates. They find themselves increasingly unable to cope, but due to their lack of awareness about how common and pervasiveness their symptoms are, they tend to lay the blame on themselves– on their own perceived weakness and ineptitude.

Here at Midnight Sun Home Care our primary concern will always be the ill, disabled and aging patient, however, we are also concerned about the impact of stress on our community’s informal caretakers.

We plan to revisit this issue of the often unrecognized and undiagnosed symptoms of Caretaker’s Stress Syndrome and explore it in greater depths. In the process, we at Midnight Sun Home Care hope to do our part to initiate a greater awareness and resolution of this syndrome here in our community.

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