The mental, physical and emotional toll felt by caretakers

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In this article I’m going to tread where angels fear to go. It will deal with an untouchable taboo. In fact, after serious investigation no one wanted to be quoted. Every discussion was “off the record.”

The subject? The problems that caretakers have in caring for loved ones. This does not involve those who are paid to care for their patients. They can be objective and unless they are longtime professionals, they are not emotionally involved. That is the basic problem for the caretakers of loved ones – they are emotionally involved.

As a Minister I have been visiting and praying for shut-ins, invalids, the handicapped and the elderly for most of my life. However, about three years ago, while sitting in church, I heard a layman praying specifically for those who had the responsibility of caring for loved ones. I had an epiphany. The plight of those who cared for others or just plain visited their loved ones regularly was brought into focus.

The physical, mental and emotional drain is enormous. Physically it is taxing. The constant demand contributes to a perennial exhaustion. The demand of bathing, cleaning, cooking or just driving to a convalescent home takes its toll. It is extremely important that the caretaker take care of him (her) self. The problem is having time to get away for a rest. At times this can be resolved by sharing shifts with other loved ones.

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This physical drain will eventually affect the immune system. Illness in one way or another becomes the end result. Taking vitamins and making time for a good night’s sleep are essential.

There is nothing more devastating than mental fatigue. Too many caretakers refuse to acknowledge this mental tiredness. They cover it up, putting on a front of bravado. The outcome is often being short tempered, blaming others for problems—simple things like forgetting prescriptions.

Another aspect of this mental fatigue is similar to that suffered by young mothers who only talk to kids. They hunger for stimulating adult conversations. The same for caretakers of the infirmed. Imagine taking care of an Alzheimer’s patient who cannot give any kind of verbal feedback. It causes brain drain.

Perhaps most difficult of all is the emotional impact. Even the strongest can begin to feel the strain. This is often called burnout. The emotions become ragged and frayed.

The result is anger and/or depression. In most stress tests, the care of a loved one ranks very high. This is equated with emotional stress. The caregiver begins to feel unappreciated. The truth is it is too often true. Only those who have been in that role can understand the situation.

Regardless of one’s love for the needy, the constant demand can affect the strongest emotions. This is especially devastating if the caregiver is also the estate executor. Financial problems can really drain a person.

Think of the people who sacrificed their careers, their marriages, their education and their financing to care for a parent. Think of the parents who cared for physically handicapped or mentally ill children for years and years.

Many times, divorce occurs or the participants become addicted to alcohol or drugs.

The inevitable emotional fallout is guilt and sometimes resentment. At times, when the patient is mentally capable, the entire scenario is filled with guilt. The recipient is aware of their dependence and pressure on the caregiver, and they feel guilty.

However, the more common guilt, is owned by the caregivers. Tragically, the more sensitive the caregiver, the more vulnerable they are to feeling guilt. They can never do enough, love enough or be good enough to satisfy their own expectations.

They are always in a Catch-22 situation. Fortunately, there is a resolution. It comes from good old common sense. A person can do just so much. Keeping all of life in perspective is a good antidote for most problems a caregiver may have.

Do you know a caregiver? Who gives and gives. Whatever else they need, they need understanding from all of us. If anyone needs lots of “Kudos” it is the caregiver. I salute all of you.

Amen. Selah. So be it.

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