caregiver depression counselingDepression among caregivers is so common that there is a term for it: caregiver depression. This particular type of depression can take a serious toll on a caregiver and affect the caregiver’s ability to care for a loved one.

Although the bulk of research involving caregiver depression has involved the caregiver’s of patients with Alzheimer’s disease, any type of caregiver can development caregiver depression. It effects all types of caregivers from nurses to pet owners. The following are some signs of caregiver depression and how to prevent it from happening in the first place.

The Physical and Emotional Stress of Caregiving

Long term caregiving can be particularly physically and emotionally stressful. To provide the best care possible, a caregiver sometimes places a loved one’s needs before their own. When this happens, the caregiver sometimes develops feelings of sadness, anger, loneliness, and guilt. When these emotions persist, they can trigger caregiver depression.

Individuals with caregiver depression are frequently in denial because they perceive the feelings associated with the depression as selfish. In reality, caregiver depression is very common and a normal response to a difficult situation. Research has suggested that it is not unusual for caregivers to develop moderate or severe depression in response to the constant demands of providing ongoing care.

Research and Caregiver Depression

Caregiver depression is a complex condition with many research studies underway to identify the causes. Part of the reason for the depression is the fact that the caregiver often does not have the ability to take breaks, provide adequate self-care, and get enough rest and sleep. Other known contributing factors are the same as those found in any type of depression including genetic characteristics, hormonal imbalances, environmental triggers, certain medications, and chronic illness.

Caring for a person who cannot care for themselves can be all consuming. Research has shown that a person who provides care for someone with dementia is twice as likely to suffer from depression as a person providing care for someone without dementia. Not only do dementia caregivers spend significantly more time providing care, they report increased employment problems, personal stress, mental and physical health problems, lack of sleep, less time to do personal things they enjoy, and less time to spend with family and friends than non-dementia caregivers.

Research has found that the distinct feature of caregiver depression is lack of self-awareness with regards to self care. In an effort to provide the best possible care for a family member or friend, caregivers tend to sacrifice their own physical and emotional needs.

Caregivers often are stoic, strong people, but the complex and assorted aspects involved with providing care can strain even the most capable person. Caregivers can find themselves experience exhaustion, overwhelm, agitation, anxiety, distress, pessimism, and isolation. While everyone has negative thoughts and feelings from time to time, depression occurs when these feelings become more intense. The caregiver may find themselves drained of energy, tearful or irritable. These feelings may be the first signs of depression.

Treatment of Caregiver Depression

Although people experience depression in different ways there are classic symptoms, like sadness and hopelessness. There are others signs that a person might not equate with depression, such as extreme fatigue, irritability and loneliness. The type and severity of symptoms vary by individual and change over time. Examine the following symptoms of depression. You may want to consider getting help if you have experienced any of the following for longer than two weeks

  • Feeling sad, tearful, empty, hopeless
  • Changes in eating habits—eating more or eating less
  • Changes in sleep—too much sleep or not enough
  • Feeling tired all the time, difficulty getting motivated to do anything
  • A loss of interest in people or activities that you used to enjoy
  • Becoming easily agitated or angered
  • Feeling nothing you do is good enough
  • Increased alcohol or drug consumption
  • Difficulty focusing, thinking, or planning
  • Neglecting your physical well-being and appearance
  • Onset of physical symptoms that do not respond to treatment, such as headaches, digestive disorders, and chronic neck or back pain

Early identification of symptoms of depression is the first step. If depression is caught early enough it can often be attenuated with exercise, a healthy diet, support of family and friends, and a caregiver’s group. There are even online caregiver support groups for families, partners, and other caregivers of adults with disorders such as Alzheimer’s, stroke, brain injury, and other chronic debilitating health conditions. If your caregiver depression become more serious, other interventions may be necessary such as consultation with a mental health professional and medication.

Randi Fredricks, Ph.D.

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Mittelman, MS, Roth, DL, Coon, DW et al. (2004). Sustained benefit of supportive intervention for depressive symptoms in caregivers of patients with Alzheimer’s disease. Am J Psychiatry. 2004;161:850–856.

Powers, DV, Gallagher-Thompson, D, Kraemer, HC. (2002). Coping and depression in Alzheimer’s caregivers: longitudinal evidence of stability. J Gerontol B Psychol Sci Soc Sci. 2002;57:205–211.

Teri, L, Truax, P. (1994). Assessment of depression in dementia patients: association of caregiver mood with depression ratings. Gerontologist. 1994;34:231–234.

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