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Caregiver stress can add up to PTSD

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Caregiver trauma can look like, talk like and act like PTSD even though it hasn’t received the same amount of notice.

We know what Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is for soldiers and there have even been stories about it for victims of crime or other traumatic events such as terrorist attacks but an article in the New York Times and another on CNN report that some experts are suggesting that caregivers can get PTSD as well.

While the topic has received little attention, some experts agree that the trauma does exist and can involve flash backs and intrusive thoughts and memories.  Other experts believe that the trauma may be as a result of earlier trauma that is intensified or exacerbated.

Regardless of whether or not caregivers can get PTSD, we know caregivers can get stress and stress can be treated.  The challenge lies in making sure the caregiver takes care of themselves.  Caregiving requires huge amounts of physical and mental strengths.  How do you know if you are getting stressed by your caregiving?  Here’s a short list of symptoms of signs of caregiver stress.

  • Anger- Are you angry or do you lose your patients with other family members or yourself?
  • High Emotion-Do you suddenly have feelings of despair, sadness or other dramatic mood swings?
  • Sleep issues-Do you have problems falling asleep, staying asleep or waking up tired?
  • Significant weight changes-Have you recently gained or lost five or more pounds?
  • Lethargy-Do you have a hard time getting motivated to do anything?
  • Illness-Do you have more colds, head or body aches or elevated blood pressure?
  • Isolation-Do you go for long periods of time when the only other person you interact with is the person you are providing care for?
  • Family complaints-Do other members of your family complain you don’t spend enough time with them or do you have more arguments with other members of your family?

I’m always reminded about how every airline starts the flight with a list of emergency procedures and one of the first ones on the list is that if the air mask comes down, you’re to place it on your own face first and then provide assistance to any child or other person who needs help.  That’s what you need to do as a caregiver.

Take advantage of the many resources out there to help support caregivers.  Ask for help when you need it and remember you can’t care for someone else unless you care for yourself.  Here are some tips for taking care of you.

  • Ask for and be willing to accept help.  Share your work.  Too many people think that because the person they are caring for is a spouse or a parent that the onus is on them to be the caregiver.  Be prepared to have an actual list of things so that when people say that they want to help you can give them concrete things that will make your life better.  Don’t try to be all things to all people.  Focus on what you are good at and can provide and let go of the things that you aren’t good at or can’t provide.  Make use of adult care centers, respite care and short term nursing homes to give you a break.
  • Join a support group or even a group of people who do things you like to do so that you have interaction with a larger community.  Set aside time for yourself.  It’s not selfish to make sure that you are getting the time you need to recharge your batteries so that you can come back refreshed.
  • Take care of your physical/health needs.  Take walks, get enough sleep, eat right.  Do all the things you would do to make sure that you are physically able to perform the job of caregiver.  See a doctor.  Make sure your shots and health screenings are up to date so that you don’t have to care for someone else while you are in need of care.


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