40% to 70% of family caregivers have clinically significant symptoms of depression.
Researchers have found that a person who provides care for someone with dementia is twice as likely to suffer from caregiver depression as other caregivers. Not only do dementia caregivers spend significantly more hours per week providing care, they report more problems in many areas from work to personal life and health.
Generally, both caregiver depression and perceived burden increase as the care recipient's functional status declines.
Women experience higher rates of caregiver depression, but men also seek help less often and “self treat” with alcohol, overwork, etc. Men hire help more often, but have smaller support networks.
Lack of sleep, little support and dealing with challenging behaviors are three big risk factors for caregiver depression. Additionally, any past history of depression, coexisting mental health issues or poor health puts caregivers at high risk.
Caregiver Stress and Role Strain
Roughly 4 in 10 family caregivers find their situation highly stressful and another 25% report moderate stress. Caregivers describe feeling frustrated, angry, drained or helpless in many cases.
Exhaustion plagues more than one-fifth of caregivers, and many feel they cannot handle all their caregiving responsibilities. In addition to this, many caregivers juggle multiple roles. Experts use the term “sandwich generation” to describe those sandwiched between caring for aging parents and their kids. More than 1 in 6 Americans working full-time or part-time report assisting with caregiving. And, 70% of working caregivers suffer work-related difficulties. Also, the impact is long term as 10 million caregivers aged 50+ who care for their parents lose an estimated $3 trillion in wages, pensions, retirement funds, and benefits.
Preparation, Support and Consequences to Caregiver and Care Recipient
Evidence shows that most caregivers are ill-prepared for their role and provide care with little or no support.
More than a third of caregivers continue providing intense care while suffering poor health. One of the most influential factors in a caregiver’s decision to place a relative in a long-term care facility is the family caregiver’s own physical health. The toll of caregiving on health worsens over time. Caregivers reporting fair or poor health increases from 14% the first year to 20% after 5+ years of providing care.
Solutions for Caregiver Depression and Stress
Though these statistics sound dire, we have good news. First, most caregivers (around 80%) actually report positive experiences caregiving. They get a sense of giving back to someone who has cared for them, the satisfaction of knowing that their loved one is getting excellent care, personal growth and increased purpose.
We'll share some solutions to ensure that you’re more likely to experience such positive outcomes, and less likely to suffer caregiver depression and strain. Preparation, support and having options will significantly alter the caregiving experience. Additionally, caregivers need the resources to ensure they can maintain their own health, balance roles and get rest.
Preparation: Assessment and Care Planning
One of the best things you can do to prevent unnecessary caregiver burden is to get a professional assessment. A care manager can help you get organized, know what to expect, and connect to resources. They can give you the tools to manage caregiving more effectively and a plan that gives you direction.
Too often, we think of caregiving as something we should just know how to do. But, most of us are ill-prepared for what we face. Learning as we go and facing uncertainty increases the strain. This is even truer when handling dementia care, complex medical needs, behavior issues or difficult relationships.
Caregivers who have support fare much better. Caregiver depression is closely linked to feelings of isolation and helplessness. Starting with a plan and resources helps. It also means you know where to turn when you run into obstacles.
You might also want to connect with other caregivers. Sometimes you may feel like your friends and family are tired of hearing your caregiving woes. And, they may not truly understand. Caregiver support groups can be great, though some caregivers find it difficult to attend in-person groups. You can also check out online groups, blogs and forums to see what fits for you. We invite you to join our Facebook Caregivers Community.
Practical support helps you maintain good health and prevents caregiver depression. Seek this support before you “need” it. A substitute caregiver stepping in to give you a break reduces strain on you and your care recipient. You can better balance your roles. You’ll feel less alone and burdened. Caregivers have much better mental health when they maintain their favorite activities. And, you can do the things you need (and want) to do without the exhaustion.
Caregivers receiving respite care report improved mental and physical health. And, their care recipients are healthier too, as are their other relationships.
Respite care comes in many forms and can be customized to your needs. Your loved one can stay in the comfort of their home (wherever that might be). Ideally, you can establish a relationship with someone before a crisis and get a regular break. Respite care can also be used for particular occasions, such as when you go on vacation, travel for family events or need surgery. Check out our Respite Care 101 overview and download our free Respite Care checklist.