Adjusting to life as a caregiver for a loved one is full of challenges. From learning how to keep them well to discovering new family dynamics and different schedules, your role and responsibilities have the power to overwhelm your daily life. With your attention and energy stretch in all directions, it’s no surprise that some things fall through the cracks. For many caregivers, the most often neglected element is their own social life and emotional health.
Isolation among caregivers is extremely common, according to senior living expert Heather O’Banion, Executive Director at Village Manor, a continuing care retirement community in Bowling Green, KY. “Many don’t realize how isolated they’ve become until they’re already weeks or months into their new role,” says O’Banion. “A loved one’s health and well-being often takes so much priority that caregivers don’t even think about their own, let alone seemingly unnecessary activities like social events or outings.”
O’Banion adds that in some cases, caregiver isolation results more from their loved one’s condition: “Caring for someone with a cognitive disease such as Alzheimer’s makes going out difficult, especially if they have troublesome behaviors like wandering, sensitivity to noise or crowds, or the tendency to lash out with aggression.”
No matter how or why a caregiver becomes isolated from the people and activities they used to enjoy, O’Banion and other senior living experts agree that a lack of social support is dangerous to a caregiver’s health, as well as their loved one’s.
The Impact of Isolation on a Caregiver
According to a recent study performed by Home Instead, Inc., almost 75% of caregivers reported feeling lonelier since they began caring for a loved one. Those surveyed were caring for a loved one with dementia – so even the one they cared for could not always provide companionship – yet, isolation can occur whether your loved one is cognitively impaired or not.
With so many family members providing unpaid, often untrained care, the risks of isolation are high, as are the dangerous health impacts it can cause. According to the Family Caregiver Alliance, social withdrawal can lead to seriously poor mental and physical health. Dangers include:
High stress levels, which can lead to high blood pressure, feelings of anxiety or weight gain
Feeling misunderstood, believing no one understands the challenges you face
Low self-esteem from lack of support from friends or family
Loss of focus, as caregiving responsibility overwhelm and distress you
Continued withdrawal from social circles
Symptoms of clinical depression: fatigue, mood swings, hopelessness, apathy, etc.
When caregivers are isolated from others, they lose the essential element of balance in their lives. While caring for a loved one is certainly important, so is caring for yourself. In fact, you can’t provide very good care if your own health and spirit are sinking. During periods of isolation, caregivers are cut off from some of the most valuable resources available to them, including support and encouragement from their family, friends and community.
How to Reverse Caregiving’s Isolating Effects
If you’re concerned about your social health as a caregiver, your awareness is already a step in the right direction. Both Home Instead and the Family Caregiver Alliance offer suggestions for turning the tides on caregiver isolation, starting with understanding its negative effects on your daily life.
Here’s what you can do to prioritize your well-being through social interaction:
Learn How to Recognize Isolation – Since your social life isn’t as forefront in your mind as caring for your loved one, you might not even realize how isolated you’ve been for quite some time. Build a habit of self-awareness, asking yourself how you’ve responded to social invitations. Do you turn them down automatically? When was the last time you spent time with your friends? If you’re unsure, ask those closest to you if they feel you’ve been antisocial or distant.
Ask for Caregiving Help – If the demands of caregiving keep you from enjoying time with others, ask family members, close friends or neighbors to help you with a few tasks. Ask a sibling to stay with your loved one while you enjoy a day with friends or your kids. There’s no shame in asking for help. You deserve a full life, too.
Utilize Respite Care Services – Many senior living communities offer adult day programs or respite care services for caregivers who could use a break. Take advantage of these services to allow yourself some flexibility, as well as give your loved one a change of pace.
Locate Alzheimer’s Friendly Businesses – Look around your area to see if any stores or restaurants are Alzheimer’s-friendly. These businesses have gone through training to ensure that their employees understand Alzheimer’s disease and how to best interact with someone with dementia. You may even want to suggest that businesses you frequent take the free training course to better serve their patrons.
Find a Support Group – As the senior population grows, it’s becoming more common to enter the role of a caregiver. When you feel alone in your situation, it can help to know that others have and are going through similar challenges. Many senior living communities host caregiver support groups dedicated to encouraging and educating family members caring for an aging or chronically ill loved one.
Make Time for You – Most importantly, start making personal time a priority. Your responsibilities may seem overwhelming, and you may think that you don’t have any time to spare. But, even just fifteen minutes of “me time” a day can help you lift your mood and feel more relaxed. Give a friend a call, read a chapter of a book or watch your favorite show. Then, when you can find longer periods of time to socialize with others, jump at the opportunity! Consider your own social health and happiness as a vital part of your caregiving routine.
Support When You Need It Most
At Village Manor, we understand the challenges that caregiving can bring, and we’re committed to helping families grow strong as they become more experienced providing care. If you would like to learn more about avoiding caregiver isolation and other factors of burnout and stress, don’t hesitate to contact us.
Welcome Home to Gracious Retirement Living at Its Best!
At Village Manor, we offer a lifestyle unlike any other, complete with all of the comforts and conveniences of apartment home and campus-style living. As Bowling Green’s only Continuing Care Retirement Community, we offer peace of mind to our residents and their families.
Village Manor is committed to a tradition of faith, care and family, and we live out our life’s work through everything for which these powerful words stand. Faith encourages us to never give up hope, allowing us to provide the best care in each situation. We are called to love our neighbors, seeking to meet every need and showing true support and friendship in all that we do. We’ve dedicated ourselves to a lifestyle of care, prioritizing our residents’ needs and comfort above anything else.
At Village Manor, we emphasize family. We consider it a privilege to take care of our residents as we would our own family members, and we are honored to be part of our residents’ family within our community.
Learn more today about living the retirement life you’ve always dreamed of.Contact us and begin the lifestyle you deserve.