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Powerful Tools for Caregivers

Sunday, August 13, 2017

About 34.2 million Americans provide unpaid care to an adult age 50 or older each year.  The caregiving can be exhausting and leave an individual stressed and worn out.  The physical and emotional strain takes its toll.   In 2011, the American Psychological Association conducted the Stress in America survey.  They found that on a scale of 1 to 10, caregivers mean level of stress was 6.5 compared with 5.2 among the public.  Fifty-five percent of those folks said they were overwhelmed by amount of care they must provide.  

Caregivers are among the three most-stressed groups in the country, according to the 2012 Stress in America Report.   Some researchers call the unique stress experienced by family caregivers a form of posttraumatic stress syndrome. According to, as many as 70 percent of family caregivers show signs of depression -- far higher rates than for peers who are not in a caregiver role.  Signs and symptoms of caregiver stress include:  feeling overwhelmed, feeling alone and isolated, sleeping too much or too little, gaining or losing a lot of weight, feeling tired most of the time, losing interest in activities you used to enjoy, often feeling worried or sad, and often having headaches or body aches. 

With the average duration of care lasting four years, it is understandable that caregivers may feel worn out.  However, in many cases, caregiver stress goes beyond fatigue and actually affects the individual’s health.  Long periods of caregiving can lead to depression and anxiety, a weak immune system, obesity, and a higher risk for chronic diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, cancer, or arthritis.    

It is vital for caregivers to practice good self-care and learn about community help.  The Department of Health and Human Services suggests these tips to prevent or manage caregiver stress:

  • Take a caregiver class
  • Find caregiving resources in your community to give you a break.
  • Ask for and accept help. Make a list of way others can help you, such as getting groceries or sitting with the person while you do an errand.
  • Make to-do lists and set a daily routine.
  • Stay in touch with family and friends, and do things you enjoy with your loved ones.
  • Take care of your health. See your doctor for checkups, find time to be physically active on most days of the week, choose healthy foods, and get enough sleep.

To walk alongside and help local caregivers, the Noyes Caregiver Resource Center and the Livingston County Office for the Aging are offering a free program called Powerful Tools for Caregivers.  It is a six-week class for family and friends caring for older adults suffering with long-term illnesses.  The class provides the skills and confidence people need to better care for themselves while caring for others.  In the six weekly sessions, caregivers develop a wealth of self-care tools to:  reduce personal stress, change negative self-talk, communicate their needs to family members and healthcare or service providers, communicate more effectively in challenging situations, recognize the messages in their emotions, deal with difficult feelings, and make tough caregiving decisions. Class participants also receive a copy of The Caregiver Helpbook developed specifically for the class.

Past Powerful Tools for Caregivers participants had the following comments: “I’m a better person for the classes.”
“Every topic was helpful.”
“I will take better care of myself for my husband.”
“Made me realize there are better ways of being a caregiver without being angry all the time.”
“I loved the whole program. It can be applied to all aspects of life.”
“Makes me feel better about being a caregiver.”
“Caregiving is a journey, not a job.”

Powerful Tools for Caregivers will meet 1:00-2:30 pm, six Thursdays, September 14 through October 19.  Classes will be held at the Dansville Public Library, 200 Main Street, Dansville, NY.  The class is free but seating is limited.  To register call 585-335-4358 or email A companion volunteer may be available to stay with your loved so you can attend.  Require about availability when you register. 

Lorraine Wichtowski is a community health educator at UR Medicine Noyes Health in Dansville, NY.  For article suggestions or questions, contact Lorraine at or 585-335-4327. 

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