Last October, a study came out from a group of nursing schools in Japan about the effects of caregiving on a person's overall sense of well-being, their sense of care burden, and their perceived ability to handle stress.
The study was conducted through questionnaires and interviews with male family caregivers, as they are taking on more roles that were previously dominated by women. Although there are still more female caregivers (69.4%) than males (30.6%), the number of male caregivers is on the rise and it was thought important to understand their issues as well as women's concerns.
The ages of the male Japanese caregivers in the study ranged from 54 to 85. They all received support from home-visit nursing or elder care support centres. In general, those under 65 reported higher on the self-reported health index than those over 75, which is to be expected.
"In 2012 in Japan, more than 24% of the general population was over 65 years old, and Japan presently has the highest longevity rate in the world. Because the number of elderly people is rapidly increasing, elder care has become the most serious problem facing the country today. A previous study showed that there were [still] more females providing primary home care compared to males; however, in Japan, where more and more elderly females are suffering from dementia or chronic diseases, many husbands and sons are being required to take the role of primary caregiver."
Although Canada's senior population is currently at about 15%, that number is expected to rise dramatically over the next 20 years. But regardless of the overall population, many of Canada's family caregivers still feel care burden and stress. How can we lessen that strain? The Japanese study points to a few factors that influence the caregivers' sense of wellbeing and stress levels that all caregivers can learn from.
What we can learn from our Japanese counterparts
The study found a number of interesting characteristics for caregivers in the study:
They were particular about their methods of care and they learned how to provide that care. They almost all believed that they could provide better care than anyone else, and could do so in their own way. Most studied up on how to provide the care needed themselves rather than attending classes or support groups.
They always provided care with the future in mind. They worked towards the improvement of the family member and prepared for what to do in an emergency or when facing end-of-life care. One husband was able to help his wife learn to walk with a cane and talk again after a stroke.
Unlike most family caregivers in North America, who take on caregiving as a secondary job, many Japanese caregivers consider that to be their primary occupation. Whether they're retired, have a job that accommodates their caregiving, or they get support from family and friends, they find ways to make sure they can concentrate on their main job: their loved one. This way, they can relieve the stress of having two full-time jobs and reduce the pressure their loved one puts on them to provide good-quality care.
The other finding from the study was that the Japanese caregivers all take time for themselves, beyond necessary breaks for cleaning their homes, personal hygiene, and health. They continued with hobbies, spent time at the gym every day, or found other ways to unwind and relax. Often, the caregivers found someone else to watch their loved one or they sent them to an adult day centre on a regular basis. Having more free time had a direct correlation with the caregivers' stress and care burden.
"Based on the results of the questionnaires used in this study, examining male caregivers' sense of care burden, capacity to deal with stress, and subjective sense of wellbeing, it was shown that the care burden was comparatively low among those who were good at relieving stress or had a balanced sense of well-being."
The inconvenient truth about family caregiving
Unfortunately, many caregivers in our country aren't able and/or willing to leave their careers, and can't put any extra hours into the day for their own relaxation time. There are ways to get help, however.
Being a martyr to help your family member isn't going to be healthy for you or your loved one in the long run. If you get burnt out or sick, who will care for them? Instead, reach out to close family members and friends to step in and help out. There are many senior adult centres around the Toronto area that can care for your loved one and give you a much-needed break. Find a professional caregiver or nurse to come to your loved one's house during the day or overnight so you can be assured they are getting proper care 24/7. Your loved one's physician might have some suggestions for other organizations to help caregivers.
Getting help from your family and from the community will not only make you feel supported, it can also free up some time for you to take care of yourself and refresh your mind and body. This, in turn, leads you to be happier and healthier so that you can provide top-notch care for your loved one.
And, of course, it's important to continue to read and learn about your loved one's condition so that you can feel comfortable about your position and know what to expect.
If you would like to learn more about how Qualicare can help you and your family, give us a call at 647-496-6268 or click below to request an in-home assessment at no cost to you.