Support for caregivers of seniors

GLOBALLY, more and more people are living longer. Malaysia is facing a historically unprecedented trend in its demography. France took 115 years to move from an ageing to an aged nation – but it will take Malaysia only 25 years to do the same.

The National Health and Morbi-dity Survey for Elderly Health 2018 reported that 17.0% of older adults are dependent on others for activities of daily living.

The Covid-19 pandemic has presented an additional set of challenges for these already overworked caregivers of the elderly. A study in the United States reported that many caregivers experienced increases in caregiver burden since the start of the pandemic due to isolation, economic hardship and uncertainty. Be on the alert for these signs of caregiver stress and burnout:

> Withdrawal from family and friends.

> Loss of interest in activities previously enjoyed.

> Exhibiting irritability, hopelessness, and helplessness.

> Changes in appetite, weight, and/or sleep patterns.

> Falling sick more often.

> Emotional and physical exhaustion.

> Feelings of wanting to hurt themselves or the care recipient.

According to clinical psychiatrist Dr Fardia Mohd Zaffa, burnout can lead to chronic stress and is detrimental to a person’s overall health. Physical health can be affected when caregivers do not get adequate rest and sleep, and the lack of time for themselves may lead to reduced exercise and improper intake of a well-balanced diet.

Unfortunately, all this puts them at further risk of developing medical illnesses such as hypertension and diabetes. Caring for older adults can also exhaust a person’s emotional and mental capabilities, according to Dr Fardia.

Caregiving is a demanding endeavour that can affect even the most resilient person. It is important that caregivers take advantage of the resources available around them.

If you are a caregiver, the following strategies can help you cope with caregiver burden:

> Prioritise physical and mental health needs. If you are unwell, you may not be able to care for your loved ones to the best of your ability. Aim to establish a good routine of quality sleep, balanced meals, and physical activities.

> Focus on the positive. It is normal to feel like you are not doing enough, but being realistic and accepting can instil a sense of calm and peace.

> Opt for help. When others offer help, take them up on their offer. Realise that accepting help does not make you weak, but rather it is an act of self-reliance.

> Get connected. Caregiving services such as meal delivery and housekeeping will alleviate the burden you are facing.

> Join a support group. A caregivers’ group can provide practical guidance and emotional support.

Support structures available in Malaysia include: the Malaysian Mental Health Association’s Caregiver and Peer Support Service; Alzheimer’s Disease Foundation Malaysia’s Caregivers’ Support Network; National Cancer Society Malaysia’s Peer Support Groups; Hospis Malaysia’s Patient and Caregiver Resources.

> Respite care. Relatives or friends are a great source of help. You may also consider seeking hired assistance to help with caring for the older adult.

When the going gets tough, it can help to remember that you are not alone. Do not hesitate to reach out for support when you need it – not just for the care recipient’s benefit, but also your own.

The article was written by Dr Nur Nabila Abd Rahim (Doctor of Public Health candidate) and Associate Professor Dr Rafdzah Ahmad Zaki. It was published on The Star and New Straits Times.

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