We learnt some home truths about our carers from the 2016 Census. There are 2.7 million unpaid caregivers in Australia. More than half provide services for at least 20 hours per week, some for many more. The average primary caregiver is 55 years old, and 37.8% have an illness or disability themselves. While many older Australians care for sick and ageing spouses, at times carers find themselves ‘sandwiched’, where they are caring for children and parents simultaneously.
The Census survey also revealed the commitment involved in caregiving. Typically, carers are responsible for multiple, wide-ranging duties, including (but not limited to) showering (36.8%), mobility (75.5%), health care (63%), household chores (72%), cognitive and emotional support (79%), and transport (86%).
In Australia, caregiving is usually embedded in family life. Carers give freely of their time and energy to loved ones with little respite. While caregiving provides a sense of meaning and fulfilment, unpaid carers frequently ignore their own needs and this means that they now have the lowest levels of wellbeing of any Australian group. Caregiver burnout is common, and with burnout comes impaired immune function and accelerated immune system ageing, ultimately impacting ongoing health.
HOW DO I KNOW IF I HAVE CAREGIVER BURNOUT?
To discover if you have symptoms of carer burnout, ask yourself these questions:
- Do I have prolonged periods of sadness and feelings of hopelessness?
- Do I have an urge to withdraw from family and friends or things I once enjoyed?
- Am I feeling anxious about getting things done, facing another day, or what the future holds?
- Do I have difficulty controlling my temper with loved ones?
- Am I experiencing a loss of concentration and finding it difficult to make everyday decisions?
- Are my eating habits changing, resulting in weight gain or loss?
- Am I tired but unable to sleep well when I do get to bed?
- Am I consistently exhausted even when I do get a reasonable night’s sleep?
- Is my drinking or smoking increasing?
- Do I have colds and flues frequently and struggle to get over them?
WHAT CAN I DO TO REMEDY OR AVOID BURNOUT?
There are no two ways about it: only by putting your own physical and emotional needs on par with your loved one can you sustain good quality care for a long period of time. But you can’t do this alone. You need respite, and this is where your extended network comes in. You need to do these things, fast:
- Call a meeting with key family and friends and don’t be afraid to say what you need. If getting together face to face only delays the gathering, use Skype or your speaker phone to include people who are absent. Be candid about the way things are and express your fears for the future. Although this is an emotional issue, give concrete examples and be as factual as possible. Once you have presented your case, don’t ask if they can help out, ask how they can help. Everybody can contribute in some way to a solution, even if they lead busy lives.
- Be willing to accept help offered. You have developed skills as a caregiver that other family and friends may not yet possess, but training can change this. However, it also doesn’t require a high level of skill for someone else to spend social time with your loved one every week so that you can take time off to meet friends or get a massage. There are simple things everyone can do to help, like dropping off groceries and medications once a week, or accompanying your loved one to a medical appointment. Small things, often, make all the difference to your load and how you feel about the future.
- Find ways to manage your stress better. To make a significant difference to your life, try including several of the following things in your routine: journaling, exercising, taking time outdoors in nature, gardening, talking to friends, or practising meditation or breathing techniques. Regular massage is also a valuable form of self-care, and talking to a professional counsellor or social worker may be extremely beneficial until you feel like you are coping better.
Private Care is a registered provider offering a range of respite care services. Our discreet nurses and carers give you stress-free timeout to participate in everyday activities, go on holidays or recover from illness. To find out more, call us on 1300 559 260 today.