APPROXIMATELY 44 MILLION Americans act as unpaid caregivers for a loved one who is older or otherwise in need of assistance. It’s an admirable task—and one that can take a toll on a caregiver’s physical and mental health.
Whether assisting a loved one with his or her daily needs, paying medical bills, or taking care of household chores, the day-to-day responsibilities of being a caregiver can be taxing enough. Then there’s the emotional stress. Children who care for aging parents, for example, might face a different family dynamic in which they feel they’ve become “the parent.” Husbands or wives caring for spouses with dementia can struggle with the reality that the people they’ve loved for so long have, in a way, disappeared.
Research shows that as many as 70 percent of caregivers experience symptoms of depression, and those symptoms can last even after a loved one moves into assisted living or a nursing home. Reporting of chronic conditions, such as diabetes and heart disease, is twice as high in caregivers as in their non-caregiving peers. Caregivers are also more likely to experience minor illnesses, such as colds.
Managing the Stress of Care
The first step in coping with the emotional and day-to-day pressures of caregiving is realizing that taking a break is not selfish. Whether it’s a morning workout, a coffee date with a good friend, or a half hour alone at the library, spending time taking care of yourself is mentally restorative and makes for better caregiving.
For example, blood pressure and cholesterol screenings can help your provider identify heart disease, while regular blood sugar screenings can reveal impending Type 2 diabetes. Certain cancer screenings, including mammograms and colonoscopies, can pinpoint cancer in its most treatable stages.
- Prioritize health. Eat well, get adequate sleep, and schedule regular visits with a primary care provider, who can help uncover chronic conditions and mental health problems before they become bigger issues.
- Rely on your community. Support groups not only allow caregivers to get ideas and tips, but they also offer opportunities to connect with and get moral support from others in similar situations.
If you’re concerned caregiving may be having a negative effect on your health, talk to your primary care provider. Visit summithealthcare.net/find-a-doctor to find one near you.