“Be sure to put on your own oxygen mask before helping someone else.” At first glance, those words, spoken before takeoff on every flight for the last few decades, can sound a bit selfish. There’s a good reason we are given this instruction though. At cruising altitudes, you only have seconds to get your mask on before the lack of oxygen starts affecting your ability to function. If you pass out, you certainly won’t be helping anyone else. While this example might be a bit over-used, it provides a good reminder that sometimes we need to take care of our selves in order to take care of someone else.

That is especially true for family caregivers. Caregiver stress is real and the negative effects can be detrimental to the person providing care and to the person receiving care. Family caregivers tend to put off taking care of their own health needs. For many seniors who need care, a caregiver spouse is the only thing preventing them from permanently entering a nursing home.

Caregiver spouses between the ages of 66 and 96 who were experiencing strain had mortality risks 63% greater than spouses who weren’t providing care or who were providing care but did not report being strained.

Journal of American Medical Association 

It is critically important for caregivers and other family members to recognize the signs of caregiver stress and seek help – put on that oxygen mask – before it becomes dangerous for the caregiver. The Mayo Clinic published a list of warning signs to look out for in our caregivers:

  • Feeling overwhelmed or constantly worried
  • Feeling tired often
  • Getting too much sleep or not enough sleep
  • Gaining or losing weight
  • Becoming easily irritated or angry
  • Losing interest in activities once enjoyed
  • Feeling sad
  • Having frequent headaches, bodily pain, or other health issues
  • Abusing alcohol or drugs (including prescriptions)

The Family Caregiver Alliance has great resources for reducing caregiver stress. Perhaps the most critical piece of advice they provide is to remember that taking care of yourself isn’t selfish, its actually part of your responsibility as a family caregiver. Managing stress, eating well, going to the doctor, taking time for yourself, and accepting help are just some of the ways family caregivers can manage the stress they take on while being sure to take care of their own needs too.

Family caregiver stress is just one of the many challenges we work with clients to alleviate through the Life Care Planning process. While traditional elder law focuses on legal documents and asset protection, we start with a focus on care. Our Elder Care Coordinator visits our clients where they live, makes assessments of the challenges they face, and connects them with trusted partners who can help relieve the stress of aging in place and caring for a loved one. With our Elder Care Coordinator focused on care, our legal staff can focus on addressing legal and financial matters to ensure our clients can pay for the care they need.