We have recently focused on bringing attention to the issue of depression and suicide in elders. You can look back at some of our articles in this blog (search “depression”) and at AgingWisely.com for information and resources. Today, we shift our focus slightly to another group at-risk for depression, caregivers. Studies consistently show higher levels of depression and other mental health problems among caregivers versus their non-caregiving peers:
- 40% to 70% of family caregivers have clinically significant symptoms of depression with about 25-50% of these caregivers meeting the diagnostic criteria for major depression.
- 20% of employed female caregivers over 50+ report symptoms of depression compared to 8% of their non-caregiving peers.
- The highest levels of depression are found among dementia caregivers. * Statistics from Family Caregiver Alliance
Underlying Factors and How to Help
One of the underlying problems for many caregivers is the stress they feel handling so many tasks seemingly alone. Most long-term care is provided strictly by family and friends with little outside support. These caregivers may reduce many other activities, including quitting their job or reducing hours, sometimes adding to economic pressures. This is especially challenging for those caring for someone with dementia or another progressive disease. The caregiver can feel isolated, exhausted and consumed by the role and their duties. Having help and support can reduce feelings of hopelessness and allow the caregiver some rest and stress-relief.
Caregivers are often unaware of the availability of support services. One recent study of Alzheimer’s caregivers found that 75% had unmet needs; only 9% used respite services and only 11% participated in support groups. A study of California caregivers similarly found that 75% did not know where to access services that they would have used.
At EasyLiving, we try to offer specific advice and resources to help caregivers connect with the help they need. Fortunately, caregivers are pretty active online and these statistics will likely continue to improve as caregivers find it easier to locate help and ideas on the web. It can still seem daunting to locate reliable help and quality information. If you know someone who is a caregiver, help by connecting them to resources, sharing relevant information and encouraging them to reach out for help.
Unfortunately, when someone is depressed they typically feel sapped of energy and hope, so they may lack the motivation to follow up. One way you might want to help is to do some research for the person or ask if you can set up a meeting to learn more. For example, our EasyLiving and Aging Wisely Senior Care Consultant will come out to the client’s home for a complimentary consultation. By setting this up, you may be able to open the door to help the person access services and see that there is hope.
You might need to be a little pushy with your offers of help, and it is best to offer something concrete rather than saying “let me know how I can help”. Bring over a home cooked meal, offer to grocery shop, or provide a short break for the caregiver.
Encourage the caregiver to make and keep regular doctors’ appointments. If they object or tell you they have canceled appointments because there is not time, try to make a plan for them to attend. Encourage the person to tell the doctor about symptoms they have been experiencing, including possible indicators of anxiety or depression such as difficulty sleeping, lack of appetite, and difficulty concentrating.
It really helps a caregiver deal with stress and stay healthy to maintain some outside activities. We always encourage all family caregivers to try to maintain at least one favorite activity. Even taking an hour or two per week for this activity helps the caregiver maintain “life outside the caregiving role”. Try to help with practical suggestions for how to make this happen.
Share information about respite care with the caregiver. Hiring someone once per week or for a couple hours each day can give the caregiver a much-needed break, allowing the person to do a better job as a caregiver and maintain his/her own health. Home health care services like those offered by EasyLiving can be more affordable than caregivers think, and quality agencies will work closely with the caregiver to provide customized care to their loved one. Check out Creating a Care Team for answers to common concerns caregivers have about others helping out with caregiving.
Support groups can also be wonderful, as an avenue for practical advice and emotional support. Hearing stories and input from others “in the same boat” often means more and helps the caregiver see possibilities. If the caregiver feels too overwhelmed too attend, consider an online support group or community as a first step. Check out and share this great article from AARP which addresses some of the benefits of caregiver support groups and reasons caregivers often give for not attending (and why they should).
When a caregiver has been diagnosed with depression, you can help by providing support and checking in regularly. Some caregivers neglect their own health and healthcare, especially in times of crisis with their care recipient. Some caregivers will neglect to refill their vital medications because of time or costs. As mentioned, they may cancel doctors’ appointments or find it hard to eat properly, get adequate sleep and exercise. By staying connected and checking in on the person as well as offering specific help, you may be a vital lifeline for the caregiver.
Here are some additional resources if you are concerned about a caregiver:
EasyLiving’s Senior Care Consultant: 727-447-5845 (complimentary in-home consultation, resources/information via phone, help setting up respite care and/or geriatric care management services)
Family Caregiver Alliance (check out their online support groups under “Caregiver Connect”)
NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) Depression Resources
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255)