Fall 2022 Newsletter
Sarah Davidson, DNP, RN, CNE
Associate Dean, College of Nursing and Health Professions
Arkansas State University
Caring for an elderly family member comes with great rewards and equally great complications. The complexities of caregiving may become difficult to manage and caregivers are especially susceptible to caregiver role strain. Caregiver role strain occurs when caregivers experience stress because of the increased responsibility, change in lifestyle, and financial obligations associated with taking care of another person (Caregiver Role Strain, 2020; Kimura, et al., 2019). The demands of caring for someone with a chronic illness or condition that prevents them from taking care of their basic needs may lead to exhaustion and stress (Caregiver, 2009). Caregivers may also experience feelings of frustration, sadness, guilt, and isolation (Caregiver Stress: Tips for Taking Care of Yourself, 2022; Franzen et al., 2021). Almost 60% of caregivers also work outside the home. Juggling work, family and caregiving responsibilities often becomes overwhelming and leads to diminished productivity, unanticipated financial strain, and missed opportunities for professional growth (10 Tips to Manage Caregiver Role Strain, 2020; Andersson et al., 2019; Dickson et al., 2022)). Responsibilities are often magnified by the large number of co-morbid medical conditions generally experienced by elders and difficulties navigating through the healthcare system increase along with the complexity of care (Dickson et al., 2022). The uncertainty of life expectancy and associated emotional strain add to the already complicated situation (Hovland & Kramer, 2019).
Meeting the challenges associated with caregiving starts with recognition of the normal symptoms experienced by many caregivers. Withdrawal from usual activities; losing interest in things normally enjoyed; feeling irritated, angry, and moody; or having thoughts of suicide and death are often common in caregivers. Those caring for others may have trouble concentrating; feel overwhelmed; and suffer from increased health and sleep problems along with appetite changes. The high levels of stress associated with caregiving often have negative health effects. Although these symptoms are frequently experienced by caregivers, achieving a balanced, stable life can be reached with knowledge of and access to helpful resources (Caregiver Stress: Tips for Taking Care of Yourself, 2022; Kimura et al., 2019).
Kimura et al. (2019) found that caregiver burden can be reduced through emotional and practical support. Asking for and accepting help may be difficult but is one of the most valuable ways to deal with stress. A strong support team of family and friends along with health care resource personnel can provide a break from daily caregiving tasks. The caregiving load can be alleviated through the establishment of a routine of self-care to maintain health. Setting realistic goals that focus on what can be accomplished without outside assistance and using social and professional resources to fill in the gaps may relieve anxiety. Support groups for a variety of disorders are available in most areas and provide a healthy outlet to talk with others facing the same situation. Caregivers may take personal time by using respite care options such as short-term nursing homes, adult day care, or in-home respite. (Caregiver Stress: Tips for Taking Care of Yourself, 2022). The eventuality of death remains at the forefront of caregiver worries and hospice care professionals can alleviate much of this with information about expectations along with psychosocial and spiritual support (Hovland & Kramer, 2019).
Health care providers play an essential role to connect caregivers with resources. Caregivers are often hesitant to ask for assistance, therefore, during each health care encounter assessments should include questions regarding the mental and physical status of the caregiver (Onega, 2013). The Caregiver Strain Index (CSI) (1983) is a useful tool that addresses many symptoms commonly identified in caregivers. The Modified Caregiver Strain Index (MCSI) (Thornton & Travis, 2003) is a shorter, quicker assessment tool that addresses financial, physical, psychological, social, and personal areas of identified stress to help health care providers recognize caregivers in need of more in-depth assessment and/or follow-up. The MCSI is easy to administer and has higher reliability than the original CSI although the CSI is more useful to measure caregiver strain in outcomes research (Thornton & Travis, 2003).
Caring for an elderly family member provides immense rewards and affords time for families to adjust to the inevitability of loss. Recognizing the stressors associated with caregiving and developing healthy strategies to deal with them can be accomplished by creating a strong support system, taking time to maintain personal health, and utilizing personal and professional resources. Healthcare professionals are at the forefront of identifying caregivers in need of resources with regular, thorough assessments that may include the CSI or MCSI.
10 Tips to Manage Caregiver Role Strain (2020). CaringBridge. https://www.caringbridge.org/resources/caregiver-role-strain/
Andersson, M.A., Walker, M.H., & Kaskie, B.P. (2019). Strapped for time or stressed out? Predictors of work interruption and unmet need for workplace support for among informal elder caregivers. Journal of Aging and Health, 3(4), 631-651. DOI: 10.1177/0898264317744920.
Caregiver (2009). Family Caregiver Alliance. https://www.caregiver.org/resource/caregiving/?via=caregiver-resources,all-resources
Caregiver Role Strain (2020). University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health. https://patient.uwhealth.org/healthfacts/6921
Caregiver Stress: Tips for Taking Care of Yourself (2022). Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/in-depth/caregiver-stress/art-20044784
Dickson, V.V., Melnyk, H., Ferris, R., Leon, A., Arcila-Mesa, M., Rapozo, C., Chodosh, J., & Blaum, C.S. (2022). Perceptions of treatment burden among caregivers of elders with diabetes and co-morbid Alzheimer’s Disease and related dementias: A qualitative study. Clinical Nursing Research, 0(0). doi.org/10.1177/10547738211067880
Franzen, S., Eikelboom, W.S., vanden Berg, E., Jiskoot, L. C., van Hemmen, J., & Papma, J.M. (2021). Caregiver burden in a culturally diverse memory clinic population: The caregiver strain index-expanded. Dementia and Geriatric Cognitive Disorders, 50, 333-340. DOI: 10.1159/000519617
Hovland, C.A. & Kramer, B.J. (2019). Barriers and facilitators to preparedness for death: Experiences of family caregivers of elders with dementia. Journal of Social Work in End-of-Life & Palliative Care, 15(1), 55-74. DOI: 10.1080/15524256.2019.1595811
Kimura, H., Nishio, M., Kukihara, H., Koga, K., & Inoue, Y. (2019). The role of caregiver burden in the familiar functioning, social support, and quality of family life of family caregivers of elders with dementia. Journal of Rural Medicine, 14(2), 156-164.
Onega, L.L. (2013). The Modified Caregiver Strain Index (MCSI). Try This: Best Practices in Nursing Care to Older Adults, The Hartford Institute for Geriatric Nursing, New York University, College of Nursing, 14. https://hign.org/consultgeri/try-this-series/modified-caregiver-strain-index-mcsi
Thornton, M. & Travis, S.S. (2003). Analysis of the reliability of the Modified Caregiver Strain Index. Journal of Gerontology, 58(2), S127-132. doi: 10.1093/geronb/58.2.s127