The CNN.com article, "Exhaustion, anger of caregiving get a name: Stress of full-time caregiving increasingly referred to as ‘caregiver syndrome,'" is getting a lot of attention.
I've read a couple of responses from people who seem to think it unwise to come up with yet another label for another set of symptoms. I see their point. Our culture does get stuck in the "disease of the month" mentality. However, I, personally, am happy to see this label emerge.
When I speak to groups, I often say that the first thing a caregiver needs to do is stop for a moment and say to him or herself, "I am a caregiver. I have just taken on another job."
I call this self-identifying, and I feel it needs to be done sooner rather than later (though it's never too late.)
Most of us are familiar with the fact that caregiving is not likely to be recognized as work by people who haven't been completely immersed in it. They skim over the whole thing as, "Oh, you're helping out your mom. That's nice."
Even siblings of those of us who are primary caregivers often don't "get" how difficult it is, or don't care to know. (I'm generalizing, so please forgive me, all of you wonderful siblings who do understand and help out.) So, if you don't get the support and respect you need from others, you can at least support and respect yourself. And you can seek resources and support elsewhere.
Another reason for self-identifying as a caregiver, and doing it early, is that caregiving sneaks up on us. I've written about that several times before, and I'll continue writing and speaking about it, simply because it's the truth.
Caregiving often starts out with just "helping out a little." No big deal. But, soon, it becomes a weekend thing. So you work at your job during the week, and you are a caregiver on the weekend. Then, it's caregiving after work, or looking into in-home care during work, or going to weekly doctor appointments with your ailing elder. And then? You are on call 24/7. You have taken on another job and you don't even have time to figure it out. Some days, you hardly remember your kids' names, or your own.
So, what good does labeling do, anyway? It increases awareness. That awareness can wiggle itself into your brain and demand that you take better care of yourself. It can help you stand up to others and demand some help. So, I say label away.
Back to the CNN story. Prolonged caregiving is very hard, physically and mentally (this is where you say, "duh!"). People, and yes doctors generally find it easier to grasp why you are so tired, angry and burned out, if there is a name for what you are experiencing.
The CNN article says, "This condition is increasingly being referred to as ‘caregiver syndrome' by the medical community because of its numerous consistent signs and symptoms. In the pamphlet, ‘Caring for Persons with Dementia,' Dr. Jean Posner, a neuropsychiatrist in Baltimore, Maryland, referred to caregiver syndrome as, ‘a debilitating condition brought on by unrelieved, constant caring for a person with a chronic illness or dementia.'"