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Senior Citizen's Guide to Baltimore

Caring for Yourself When You Care for Others

Nobody said growing older is easy! The statistics for aging Americans are startling. Baby Boomers will swell the age 65+ population in the USA from 13% to 20% by 2050. Today, more than 200 million Americans are caring for an elderly family member. With increasing life expectancy, almost all of us will provide care for an aging loved one, whether it be our spouse, a sibling, or our parents.

Caregiving can be an emotional tug of war, involving powerful and sometimes conflicting emotions including anxiety, fear, sadness, anger, resentment, guilt, shame, and loneliness, as well as love, compassion, respect, and tenderness. Even within the warmest relationship, there may be moments of irritation and frustration, and a sense that we can never “do enough.” After all, caregivers are only human. Feeling fatigued, stressed, and overwhelmed are frequent complaints. Adding to the stress is the fact that our current health care system is not easy to navigate: options can be confusing, and resources are sometimes difficult to find.

Studies have shown that taking care of a family member can have a significant impact on the caregiver’s physical and emotional health, relationships, and employment. Approximately 40-60% of family caregivers experience depression and are more prone to stress-related health problems, such as diabetes and heart disease, than non-caregivers.*

When the demands of caregiving start to feel overwhelming, we need to pause and figure out how to take care of ourselves. If we neglect our own needs, our health suffers and we can’t be effective caregivers. Current research confirms that supportive services for caregivers can effectively reduce the burden, strain, and depression associated with caregiving, and can delay the institutionalization of loved ones.**

Here are some ways to prevent “caregiver burn-out.”

In spite of the challenges, caring for an older loved one can also be rewarding. It often gives us the opportunity to get to know each other in new or additional ways. Invite your relative to tell you and your children more of the family history and his or her life story. These are conversations that can bring beautiful memories to light and even create more memories.

As we honor our loved ones with our care, it is important to remember to nurture ourselves and attend to our own needs. By tapping into the many resources and kinds of support available to caregivers, we are taking care of ourselves as well as our elders, and we all benefit.

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