Care for Caregivers
Here's some valuable advice that will help you stay well while looking after your loved one.
When you’re responsible for an adult loved one who’s battling a debilitating illness, it’s easy to feel alone.
But of course, you’re not. You’re part of a vast, caring army: Upwards of 50 million Americans offer daily support to a chronically ill, disabled or aged family member or friend.
Generally speaking, that army consists of middle-aged adult children or older spouses, who “sacrifice their own health to care for a loved one who is battling a debilitating disease,” says Sharon L. Lewis, PhD, RN, the co-author of a new study, A Stress Busting Program for Family Caregivers.
These caregivers bear a heavy load helping loved ones manage the details of living as well as assist with their most intimate daily needs, including toileting, feeding and simply getting around.
Caregiving impacts everyone’s life, says former First Lady Rosalyn Carter, and adds: “There are four kinds of people in the world: Those who have been caregivers; those who currently are caregivers; those who will be caregivers; and those who will need caregivers.”
The statistics that apply to Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias (ADRD) sharply illustrate Carter’s message. Today, one in eight people have a family member with some form of dementia; 70 percent of people with ADRD live at home.
But dementia-related conditions are just the tip of the iceberg; millions more people with diabetes, heart disease, injuries and arthritis also rely on family or friends for help.
Stress: Caregiver Enemy Number One
As a caregiver, it’s vital to look after yourself as tenderly as you look after your loved one. Put yourself last, as many caregivers do, and eventually your health will suffer.
In addition to experiencing higher than normal rates of stress and depression, caregivers have mortality rates that are 63 percent higher than non-caregivers.
What’s more, research has shown that stress impacts your immune system for up to three years after caregiving duties end, which increases your chances of developing a chronic illness.
“Caregivers are at risk for emotional, mental, and physical health problems that arise from complex caregiving situations,” says Lewis.
She and her colleagues learned that when caregivers learn to identify and deal with stress, their levels of anxiety, depression, anger, and hostility plummet.
Here are 10 tips for family caregivers that can help you stay well, physically, mentally and emotionally:
1. Do something just for yourself every day.
Read, listen to music, phone friends, work at a craft, exercise. Aything that gives you pleasure and a little respite will also help lower your stress levels.