Caregiver Stress Impacts Personal Health

Being a caregiver is fulfilling, although demanding, work and many caregivers do not realize the toll it takes on them. Some may admit that they do not get much sleep or have less energy and time; but they may not realize how deeply caregiving is affecting them, on many different levels.

Providing care for a parent, spouse or relative is a stressful experience, with the potential to affect physical health and psychological well-being. And, if that isn’t enough, a study funded by the National Institute of Health estimates one in seven (14%) Americans who are 71 and older is experiencing some form of dementia, with the percentage increasing to just over 37% for individuals approaching 90 years of age. The extreme challenges associated with caring for someone with dementia increases a caregiver’s stress and distress exponentially.

In another report from the American Journal of Nursing published on the National Center of Biotechnology Information Programs website, the following was shared, “… a caregiving role can be stressful and burdensome … has all the features of a chronic stress experience: it creates physical and psychological strain over extended periods of time, is accompanied by high levels of unpredictability and uncontrollability, has the capacity to create secondary stress in multiple life domains such as work and family relationships, and frequently requires high levels of vigilance.”

Family members who care for an older relative or friend often have higher levels of stress, depression, anxiety and other mental health issues, which then affects all areas of their lives.

Caregiving and Emotional Health

With the high levels of stress that accompany caregiving, it’s not surprising that emotional health can be negatively affected, especially through depression. The American Caregiver Alliance offers many sobering facts about caregiving and depression:

  • Caregivers consistently demonstrate higher levels of depression and other mental health problems. In fact, it is estimated that 40-70% of all caregivers combat depression, with 25-50% of this group having major depressive episodes.
  • Even after placement in a care community, and although the caregiver’s health became the main reason for the placement, caregivers continue to deal with depression and anxiety, some with worsening symptoms
  • Depression is more likely to lead to anxiety disorders and chronic disease

And, although we hate to think about it, caregivers in high stress situations may demonstrate harmful behaviors to themselves and others. In response to the amplified stress, caregivers can become hostile to others, especially the recipient of their care. Those at risk of clinical depression are more likely to harm a care recipient who has significant physical care needs and/or cognitive impairment.

Caregivers deal with many other feelings as well… frustration, anger, guilt, helplessness and stress, to name a few, all while being physically and emotionally drained. Many caregivers also battle a lowered self-esteem, a loss of self-identity and feelings of uncertainty.

Caregiving and Physical Health

The American Caregiver Alliance also has much to say concerning caregiving and physical health. When compared to their peers, caregivers often find themselves dealing with a greater number of health issues, many of them serious and often ignored:

  • One-third of caregivers are suffering from poor health conditions themselves, yet continue to provide for the intensive care needs of others
  • 11% of caregivers report their health has worsened due to caregiving
  • Almost twice as many caregivers report fair to poor health, at least one chronic health condition, a disability and many chronic conditions such as cancer, heart disease/heart attack, high blood pressure, arthritis and diabetes, as compared to their peers
  • The physical stress of caregiving causes a diminished immune response, leading to frequent and reoccurring infections, slower wound healing and an increased risk of cancer
  • Women are at an even greater risk of developing heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes and having higher cholesterol levels. In fact, even as little as nine hours of caregiving a week for an ill or disabled spouse can increase a woman’s risk of heart disease by 200%.
  • Due to depression, stress, limited energy and time constraints, caregivers are less likely to take care of themselves. They are more likely to drink, smoke or eat poorly.
  • Caregivers over the age of 65 and caring for a spouse have a 63% higher mortality rate than their peers

What Can You Do?

So, what can you do? First of all, you need to understand that it’s okay and essential to take care of yourself. You may be so busy taking care of others, you have allowed the care you need to go unnoticed. The problem is, your body noticed. Continued disinterest or abuse of your own well-being could lead down a path of significant health problems and result in requiring a caregiver yourself.

Fortunately, you have many more options than you did even a few years ago. In the not too distant past, supportive living communities offered services only to those who lived in their communities, 24/7. Now, communities offer assistive services to help the family caregiver with respite or short stay care. This provides much needed rest to revitalize or to provide daily care while the caregiver goes to work or goes about their daily life.

Respite Care or Short Stay Programs offer a place for a person to come and receive the same services full-time residents receive, including meals, housekeeping, personal care and medication reminders and social programs, in a safe and supervised atmosphere. Whether utilized for a few weeks or a few months, respite care enables you to take the time to care for yourself. Short stay programs, like the one here at Tudor Heights, are the perfect option while you are out of town for work or vacation, or to help your family member experience life in the community prior to moving in. They provide a break from caregiving, so that you can relax, knowing your spouse or family member is well taken care of.

Whether a short stay program or a move to an assisted living or memory care residence is the right fit, we understand your commitment to your family. And, in our intimate community at Tudor Heights, you’ll feel like part of our family. Our team is dedicated to getting to know each resident and their family members so that we can provide individualized support to help them live their best life. Contact us today to learn how much we care for you and for those you care about.

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