Avoid feeling alone, isolated, or incapable
Loneliness, isolation, and feeling incapable or helpless are problems for many caregivers and are major elements of caregiver stress syndrome. This article explains the negative effects of these feelings and then offers ways to avoid feeling alone, isolated, or incapable.
Caregiver stress syndrome
The toll taken by caregiving has a name: caregiver stress syndrome. This syndrome can be deadly. Approximately 30% of caregivers overall die before the person they’re caregiving,1 and caregivers aged 66 and older are 63% more likely to die than non-caregivers in the same age range.2
Loneliness, isolation, and feeling incapable play a major part in caregiver stress syndrome. They arise as the caregiver focuses more and more on the care recipient and withdraws from their normal social activities and interactions with friends, colleagues, and even themselves.
These feelings cause emotional pain and distress, which can lead to chronic inflammation, a weaker immune system, and damaged brain health. People who are lonely or isolated are also at risk for high blood pressure, obesity, depression, and premature death.3
Loneliness is a negative feeling of being alone or separated from others. It is possible for a person to feel lonely even when they are around others. Studies show that feeling lonely has the same impact on mortality as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.4
Caregivers, and especially family caregivers (for example, a spouse or daughter), often grow lonely over time, as they feel that they can’t stop looking after the care recipient long enough to spend time with close friends or other family members. In addition, many caregivers who look after a loved one can feel like none of their friends understand what they are going through, so they stop sharing in a meaningful way.
To help combat loneliness, it’s important for caregivers to spend time with close friends and family members and to share real feelings about what is going on.
Spend time with close friends and family members
It is important for caregivers to recognize that relationships with family members and friends are as important to their well-being as any other lifestyle choices they make. For caregivers who feel guilty about taking this time to nurture their own health, it is useful to keep in mind that they can only be a good caregiver if they are physically and mentally healthy themselves.
Share real feelings
Sharing real feelings with close friends and family members can help. If the caregiver lacks close friends, they should make it a high priority to find a therapist, religious advisor, or other person who will listen without judgment.
Isolation is having few social contacts or people to interact with. It is common for caregivers to feel cut off from their social networks and society in general. This can be because they don’t feel they have time, they are too exhausted or overwhelmed to socialize, or they feel that their life situation as a caregiver is not something most people can relate to.
To help avoid feeling isolated, caregivers should consider joining a support group and/or volunteer for a cause or interest.
Join a support group
Other caregivers, or simply people whose loved ones have the same illness, are likely to understand a caregiver in a way that even their closest friends may not. Online forums, where caregivers can freely express their frustrations or ask for advice about their caregiving situation with others who are in a similar position, can quickly ease the sense of being isolated from society.
There are many free online and in-person support groups specifically for caregivers. These include the Family Alliance on Caregiving, the Caring.com Resource Center, AARP Family Caregivers Discussion Group, Caring for Elderly Parents, and the Caregiver Action Network. The caregiver’s local Area Agency on Aging (AAA) can help them find suitable groups.
There are also many groups specific to certain conditions, such as Alzheimer’s and other dementias, cancer, and heart disease.
Volunteer for a cause or interest
Being a part of a group that shares values or interests helps the caregiver feel a sense of belonging within the larger society. Despite being unpaid work, these kinds of volunteer connections can actually recharge and support caregivers, instead of draining them.
Feelings of incapability or helplessness
The majority of family caregivers report feeling unprepared, overwhelmed, and uninformed about the medical, emotional, and logistical situations they are expected to deal with.5 This is not surprising, since the challenges of caregiving are difficult and complex, and most family caregivers have no training or experience.
To avoid feeling incapable or helpless, caregivers should lean on and learn from professionals and other caregivers, do research, and tell a doctor and/or therapist.
Lean on and learn from professionals and other caregivers
Most caregivers in the United States are doing many tasks for which they were never trained and dealing with many situations for which they have never been given information. Caregivers can ask their care recipient’s medical team or members of their support group or online forums for information and advice.
It can be helpful for the caregiver to note which areas of their caregiving they feel uninformed about, and find a few websites or other resources that can supply quick information about them.
Tell a doctor and/or therapist
Feeling helpless or incapable of handling caregiving tasks is totally normal, but it can also be dangerous. A caregiver who feels this way should let their medical and mental-health professionals know how they are feeling and ask them for help.
Adult day care
Anticipate and manage impacts on your personal life
Balance care responsibilities
Create a care plan
Deal with caregiver burnout
Deal with caregiver depression
Find trusted sources of help
Get help and support
Join a caregiver community
Minimize family confusion, disagreements, and frustration
Take care of yourself emotionally
Take care of yourself physically
External supporting content
1Thirty Percent of Caregivers Die Before the People They Care for Do. AgingCare.com.
2Caregiver Stress Syndrome. Caregiver.com.
3Loneliness and Social Isolation — Tips for Staying Connected. National Institute on Aging.
4Isolation and Loneliness in Caregiving. Agingcare.com
5Supporting Family Caregivers in Providing Care. National Library of Medicine.