July 5, 2023 by Dean Bellefeuille

A dismayed caregiver experiencing caregiver PTSD sits on a blue couch upright in the fetal position.

Contrary to popular belief, PTSD doesn’t just occur after experiencing life-threatening danger. PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) can arise after any traumatic event or experience. It may surprise you to learn that providing care for a family member is one of the main causes of PTSD: a condition known as caregiver PTSD. However, it’s common for the condition to go unnoticed and untreated. This is because the person receiving care is usually the primary focus of both healthcare providers and the family at large.

As a family caregiver, it’s important to know the red flags of caregiver PTSD – which are distinctly different from other types of PTSD – and to seek help if you’re experiencing them. These include:

  • Anxiety: Heightened anxiety about your family member’s health and wellness can be especially noticeable at night, and can lead to night terrors.
  • Apathy: You may feel numb, empty, and emotionally detached from loved ones. This can occur in conjunction with compassion fatigue.
  • Pain: Both emotional and physical pain can be overwhelming and unrelenting. This can include stomach upset and headaches as well as feelings of anguish and hopelessness.
  • Flashbacks: Reliving a traumatic experience can bring about the same level of emotion as when the event occurred.

How Do Caregivers Experience PTSD?

Many factors inherent to caregiving can lead to PTSD, including:

  • Grief over a range of losses: watching a loved one’s health diminish, experiencing a relationship shift from simply a family member to a caregiver role, being unable to live life as it used to be, and more
  • The overwhelming responsibilities involved with caregiving: from day-to-day care tasks to managing life-changing medical and financial decisions on a loved one’s behalf
  • Difficult family dynamics and complex emotions like guilt, remorse, helplessness, and hopelessness
  • Hospitalizations and other emergency situations that arise

What Should You Do if You Think You Might Have Caregiver PTSD?

First, share your concerns and the symptoms you’ve been experiencing with your primary care physician. You’ll want to rule out any other medical conditions, particularly if you’re experiencing any physical pain.

It’s also vital that you find a mental health professional who has special training in treating people with PTSD. There are effective treatment options, including EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing) therapy, as well as individual, family, or group counseling.

Taking regular breaks from your caregiving role is also vitally important. Let family members and friends know that you’re struggling and that you could use additional support. Caregiving should never be a one-person responsibility. Allowing others to step in and help benefits the person you’re caring for as well, providing them with additional opportunities for social connections.

Can Home Care Help?

At Home Independent Living’s home care services allow you to take the time away you need for self-care while knowing an older loved one is receiving high quality care. Taking care of yourself is key to providing the best care for your family member. Contact us online or at (315) 579-HOME (4663) to learn more about our services in Syracuse, Camillus, Clay, and the surrounding areas.