Caregiving's Impact on Physical & Mental Health
A person diagnosed with dementia can live anywhere from four to 20 years. As their physical health deteriorates, so often too, does the physical health of this person's primary family caregiver. The caregiver's decline in physical health can alter their emotional and social well-being. Self-care is important, but that can come at a price. Still, family caregivers of people living with dementia work to mitigate these negative impacts on their health, and some of them do so with technology-based tools like the one highlighted in this video.
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The Physical and Emotional Demands of Dementia Caregiving
“Truthfully the daily routine became too much. I couldn't be removed from my mom,” Trish Warren, a caregiver for her mother with dementia, said.
Families face the inevitable when a loved one is diagnosed with dementia. Once this happens, it very often calls for a family member to become the primary caregiver. On top of the financial and emotional stress of dementia caregiving, the physical health of the family member serving as the primary caregiver can greatly suffer.
Warren personally experienced the difficulties that come along with the process.
“The physical demands of trying to take care of her along with the medical and mental demands got to be too much for me,” Warren said. Warren had cared for her mother for about eight years in the comfort of her home. Warren’s mother has since been cared for within a home for patients with the disease.
Many family caregivers find attending to the needs of their loved one with dementia to be difficult and stressful. It leaves little time for self care, and when it does happen, it comes with a risk.
“I couldn’t risk her walking up and falling down the stairs, either,” Warren said. The need to be a full-time family caregiver can create significant stress and doesn’t allow the caregiver to receive the proper rest to fulfill their role. “Basically, you don’t ever sleep. You don’t get the rest you need, really ever,” Warren said.
Sleep deprivation can lead to critical health issues when not treated properly. Without acknowledging the issue, it puts a person at risk of suffering from various heart issues. Heart attacks, heart failure, irregular heartbeats, and other health-related risks come about with a lack of sleep. Not only can it affect the caregiver, but others around the caregiver as well. Accidents and daily forgetfulness are both common side effects that can put other lives at serious risk.
Warren, after all things appeared to be as challenging as they could get, was faced with yet another difficulty. “She suffered a bad stroke. That’s really when things started to get worse,” Warren said. The caregiving took a physical toll on Warren. “It completely drained me as a caregiver. It wiped me out pretty quickly because I have MS,” she said.
Family caregivers with existing medical conditions are particularly more susceptible to the physical rigors of caring for a person living with dementia. They are putting their bodies through more rigorous tasks as the demands to care for someone else increase. Caregivers lack the time to be able to care for their own bodies, physically and mentally, and this could cause flare ups to those with pre-existing health conditions.
Warren wishes she had seen the signs earlier to prevent the stress from hitting so hard. “If I’d known how this would end up, I would have made sure my mom had long-term insurance to cover for this,” Warren said. “If I’d known everything, it would have saved a whole lot of stress and everything along the way with this process.”
Carolyn Farmer, a family caregiver for her sister with dementia, has experienced her share of difficulties as well. Farmer’s challenges lean more toward the mental health impacts of dementia caregiving. “Some days, some months, everything’s fine,” Farmer said. However, there are some days where the strain eventually kicks in. “I find myself repeating things an awful lot. It’s the forgetfulness that becomes a hassle,” Farmer said.
Farmer remembers very clearly a specific instance when a plumber was at the house and her sister’s dementia interfered with her ability to understand the situation.
“About 10 minutes before he was here, she was aware of who was coming to the house,” Farmer said. Once he arrived, Farmer’s sister, in just that short time span, had forgotten who the man was and why he was at the house. “She asked me who he was and seemed nervous,” Farmer said. After a few constant reminders, Farmer’s sister became more settled.
Susan Riesenbach is the owner of KR Home and Healthcare Solutions, a diverse caregiving system offering assistance for caregivers. The organization started by Riesenbach came from her obsession with helping the elderly. “Years ago, my grandfather passed away from Parkinson’s disease,” Riesenbach said. Riesenbach’s father passing away only furthered her dedication to developing the organization. “My dad passed suddenly. He was only 58, too, when he had his stroke,” Riesenbach said. “I never got to say goodbye.”
Riesenbach takes care of her clients for both long-term and short-term periods. “Recovery is important,” she said. “We designed our program to take care of really anyone in need.”
For caregivers seeking assistance, the CircleOf app is one outlet. The app is designed to assist unpaid caregivers in their time of need. The CircleOf care team helps manage their clients’ everyday tasks. Video calls and digital messaging are two options when getting in touch with the team.
Family caregivers of people living with dementia can launch the app and be introduced to the proper care teams regarding their needs.
Kerry Lange, chief operating officer and chief evangelist of the organization, is passionate about assisting caregivers and their everyday needs.
“Through our app, our goal is to help family caregivers and provide for the necessary needs of our patients living with dementia,” Lange said. CircleOf helps facilitate what are typical everyday tasks of most people. “It’s everything such as taking care of the caregiver’s appointments, picking the kids up from school, or just walking the dog,” Lange said.
The CircleOf care team has discovered that many caregivers have been nervous to contact anyone for help. “It’s unfortunate that so many caregivers won’t reach out, and they don’t always know who or how to ask for the help they need,”
Lange said. CircleOf seeks to connect caregivers with those who can provide needed support.
“A lot of caregivers might feel isolated and in need of emotional support, and our team is happy to jump right in,” Lange said. Sometimes it really is that simple. By understanding the needs of their clients, CircleOf is adaptable and able to communicate in the best way possible with all different ages. “I think that we’ve done a good job anticipating anything our caregivers are going to need,” she said.
The app is designed in a very simple fashion, which allows non-tech savvy caregivers to navigate their way through the website. “We want to reduce any stress we’re able to, so that our caregivers can be truly present with who they are caring for,” Lange said. With the care team being such a flexible and reassuring voice, it shows clients they are cared for.
While the app is still relatively new, the process of hiring specific candidates to handle specific tasks is currently in the works. For instance, for clients who might need assistance in having the care team handle phone calls throughout the day, that client may want someone who has a background in customer service. “It would help our team a lot as well knowing that he or she wouldn’t be required to stay local,” Lange said. Task management in general is an area that the CircleOf team is continuing to improve their work in.
The app is currently free, though Lange states that it will not remain this way forever. Lange encourages navigating the app while there is no charge. “It’s available in the App Store so anyone can download it and try it out,” Lange said.
Since July of 2021, the amount of users now affiliated with the app has grown substantially. “Since July, we’ve had over 40,000 new users use our app,” Lange said. Just in February alone, CircleOf has seen its monthly average rise to 15,000 users. “We’ve grown exponentially, it really is exciting to see just how quickly we’ve grown,” she said.
This exponential growth means that exponentially more caregivers are now finding the help they need.
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