Did you know that more than 65 million Americans serve as unpaid caregivers for a chronically ill or disabled family member or friend during any given year? These caregivers spend an average of 20 hours per week providing care for their loved one and the estimated market value of the care they provide is a whopping $375 billion dollars per year. Because of the high cost of hiring caregivers, 78% of elderly patients in need of long term care are dependent on family and friends as their only source of care giving. Although care giving is a labor of love, the "cost" of providing this amount of care can have devastating long term consequences for care givers physically, emotionally and economically.
In a presentation to the National Academy of Sciences, Elissa Epel from the Department of Psychiatry at the University of California reported that family caregivers experiencing extreme stress have been shown to age prematurely and that this level of stress can take as much as 10 years off a family caregiver's life. In a 2006 published article on the Assessment of Family Caregivers, noted researcher Steven H. Zarit, PhD. found that 40-70% of family caregivers have clinically significant symptoms of depression and 25-50% of these caregivers meet the diagnostic criteria for major depression. According to the National Alliance for Caregiving and Evercare, 47% of working caregivers indicated an increase in caregiving expenses has caused them to use up or most of their savings.
Given these statistics it is not surprising to hear that caregiver burnout is a big concern. Caregivers suffering from burnout typically feel physically, emotionally and spiritually exhausted and to make matters worse they may be reluctant to ask for help and may also feel guilty that they are not able to meet all of the needs of their loved on. In this article we have examined some of the causes of caregiver burnout. Next month I will discuss how to recognize the signs of caregiver burnout and what to do about it.