Caregiver Fatigue and How Hospice Can Help

By Jane James, NP, Director of Admissions at Niagara Hospice 

   The American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) estimates that nearly 40 million Americans are caregivers for an adult with a disability or illness. Providing care to an individual in the home can include assisting daily living activities, including grocery shopping, dressing, transferring, toileting, eating and medication administration.  

  People who care for loved ones at home are at risk for developing significant amounts of emotional, financial and physical stress. Recent studies have demonstrated that caregivers are at an increased risk for experiencing a heart attack and even death.    

  Caregiver fatigue or burnout can occur when the person providing care experiences emotional and physical stress that ultimately is caused by not getting adequate help. Signs that a person may be experiencing caregiver fatigue are feelings of irritability and depression. The caregiver may be experiencing more illnesses, changes in appetite and disruptive sleep patterns. The caregiver may withdraw from friends, family and even activities that they once enjoyed. In the long run, the care that the patient receives can deteriorate.

   If you think that you or someone you know may be suffering from caregiver fatigue, it could be time to call Niagara Hospice for an evaluation and discussion about options to assist in the caregiving plan. When a patient is in hospice care, respite is a benefit to the patient and their family and completely covered under Medicare. Respite care can be offered to the patient to provide relief to the family or caregiver. A patient can come to Niagara Hospice House in Lockport to receive excellent care for a period of up to five days and then be transported back home.  

   Studies also show when a caregiver has access to a well-coordinated interdisciplinary team, he or she benefits from a positive impact that leads to less anxiety, depression and perceived burden. Patients under the care of hospice services are managed by a highly skilled team that features social workers, nurses and volunteers who are trained in monitoring for signs of caregiver stress and strain. Having hospice as a support system can assist the caregiver and provide relief when needed. 

   Another option for hospice patients to have access to is continuous home care. This special level of home care can be offered to hospice patients when the primary caregiver will require a lot of teaching about how to provide care. Nurses are available for extended lengths of time in the patient’s home. During this time, the nurse instructs the family or caregiver about how to effectively care for the patient and important signs and symptoms to watch for on a regular basis. Educating caregivers and equipping them with the tools necessary to be a successful caregiver will also prevent caregiver fatigue from occurring.  Other resources available to caregivers can be found by contacting the Office of the Aging or the Alzheimer's Association. 

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