How Caregivers Beat Stress and Isolation
Aging Matters

About 34.2 million Americans have provided unpaid care to an adult age 50 or older in the last 12 months, National Alliance for Caregiving and AARP. (2015). The majority of them (82%) care for one other adult, while 15% care for 2 adults, and 3% for 3 or more adults.

The more a caregiver does for a loved one, it makes sense they'd become more stressed. But according to a family caregiver study, that's not the case. What gerontologists found, if caregivers understood the source of their stress, isolation, or depression, the better off they'd be.

Between 40 and 70 percent of family caregivers experience enough stress to show symptoms of clinical depression. And the significant stress factor is burnout not the hands-on work required of them everyday.

Caregiving has unique challenges and another culprit to stress are the expectations they have about themselves and those shaped by family and cultural norms.

The question that drove the caregiving study, "Why won't caregivers use the resources or the services offered them when needed?" The answer was surprising: It's the acquired expectations, norms and rules of family relationships. The family member giving care most likely won't ask for support if they haven't adjusted the rules that it's okay to accept.

How does one approach the issue? The head of the family caregiver research project suggests examining and adjusting one's internal rules. And the professionals who support families need to learn the language of these internalized values and norms.

The personal achievement coach, Tony Robbins reminds us that our personal rules stem from our beliefs and values adopted when we were growing up. The personal rules shape us, they make up who we are. But if the rules become unreasonable and make our lives harder and the relationships more difficult, then we need to re-evaluate and re-shape them.

Here are five ways to do that:

  1. Get priorities in order
  2. Use resources wisely
  3. Stay focused
  4. Develop the right relations
  5. Don't be complacent

Carol Marak, aging advocate and editor at She's earned a Certificate in the Fundamentals of Gerontology from UC Davis, School of Gerontology.

Part of the Aging Matters Weekly Syndicated Column

Aging Matters is a weekly column tackling everyday challenges that our growing elderly population and their loved ones face. It is also published in a variety of syndication partners including newspapers all over the country.

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