Suzanne Mintz is President and Co-Founder of the National Family Caregivers Association.
Is there any research that shows how helpful caregiving is?
Yes. The 2003 Parade Caregiver Survey clearly shows the positive impact family caregivers have on getting a loved one to go to the doctor and to take their medications. Another study, the Journal of the American Medical Association looked at the value of "visit companions" most of whom are family caregivers. More than 60% of companions assisted communications by recording physician instructions, providing information regarding patients' medical conditions or needs, asking questions, or explaining physicians' instructions.
What kind of research is there on the burden of caregiving?
There is a great deal of research regarding the burden of caregiving – some of it is physical, some emotional, and some financial. The typical family caregiver is a 46-year-old woman caring for her widowed mother who does not live with her. She is married and employed. Approximately 60% of family caregivers are women. 17% of family caregivers are providing 40 hours of care a week or more. Family caregivers experiencing extreme stress have been shown to age prematurely. This level of stress can take as much as 10 years off a family caregiver's life.
What does caregiver burnout look like?
Exhaustion, high stress level, lack of patience, inability to cope.
Do caregivers get depression?
Yes, depression is a major issue. I'm a caregiver and I've had major depression four times; most of them have been very serious. It's critical that family caregivers know the signs and symptoms of depression and seek help immediately.
What works for caregivers to help them balance their lives?
It varies for different people but those who actively acknowledge their caregiving role are more likely to take care of themselves than those who don't. It is essential to value yourself and recognize that getting overwhelmed and exhausted is not in the best interests of your loved one as well as yourself.
What is your advice to families?
NFCA's four-part philosophy helps empower family caregivers:
I know it is easy to give advice and hard to take it into your life. I struggle with the issue of time management constantly and put off doing things I know I should – like exercising more.
For more information, visit National Family Caregivers Association and the National Alliance for Caregiving.