While care-giving can be a rewarding experience, it can also be stressful and cause tension within families.  According to the American Academy of Geriatric Psychiatrists, one out of every four American families care for a chronically ill or disabled family member over the age of 50.  A survey done by Home Instead Senior Care, of these adults, 72% provide the care without any outside help. However, 31% admit they would like more help with care-giving, and one in four resent other family members and sometimes friends who do not help out.
            These caregivers are at risk for Caregiver Syndrome, also known as Caregiver Stress, a condition composed of exhaustion, anger, guilt, and depression from providing nonstop care to a chronically ill or disabled family member.   This unrelenting, and often high level of stress can create medical problems including high blood pressure, diabetes, and a compromised immune system.  In severe cases, the caregiver can take on the symptoms of the person they are caring for, i.e. dementia.  However, this syndrome is rarely treated or discussed.
            Caregiver Syndrome is a term that is widely used by professionals in hospice or nursing home care, but it is not yet recognized in American medical literature.  Because of this, it is not addressed more by physicians.  In a survey by the American Academy of Family Physicians, fewer than half of caregivers were asked by their doctors if they have experienced Caregiver Stress.  It is hard to say if Caregiver Syndrome should be recognized as a medical mental disorder, like depression and anxiety.  Unfortunately, many believe that doing so would negatively label those who have it, much like many mental disorders.
            Because care-giving of loved ones is viewed by many as a burden, very few caregivers get the help and support they need from friends, family, and sometimes even their own doctors.  These caregivers suffer in isolation.  Many do not seek assistance because they do not even realize they have a recognizable condition, or they feel guilty for needing help.  They also tend to be so immersed in the care of a loved one that they neglect to care for themselves.
            Medical treatment is a very important step in assisting these unsung heroes, but most importantly a support system.  Programs need to be implemented to provide caregivers the opportunity for time off, but it will be a long time before any government program will be established. It is up to the friends and family members of the caregiver to give the much needed breaks, even if it is only for a couple of hours every week.  This time off will greatly improve the health and happiness of the caregiver. 

            To learn more about this syndrome and find out ways to relieve symptoms or advice on how to help a caregiver in your area, please visit The Family Caregiver Alliance at http://www.caregiver.org/caregiver/jsp/home.jsp .

Author’s note:  I would like to thank the wonderful Dawn Hullender for her assistance in editing and idea movement with this.  You are the best, Dawn!  Please visit Dawn’s Blog: Dawn Hullender’s Southern Musings