Being a caregiver for a family member or loved one can be a very demanding task, physically, mentally, and emotionally. Caregivers can be at an increased risk for negative health consequences, some of which include stress, depression, anxiety, and even compromised immune function. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, about 25 percent of U.S. adults reported providing care or assistant to a person with an illness or disability.
This number will only increase as the number of older Americans increases. The number of people 65 years and older is expected to double between 2000 and 2030. Currently, there are seven potential caregivers per adult, by 2030 there will be only four potential caregivers per adult. If caregiver health risks are not taken seriously, it could drastically affect the quality of care that older adults will receive. Over half of caregivers indicate that a decline in their health compromises their ability to provide care.
Caregiver stress is caused by the emotional and physical strain of care giving. Because many caregivers are proving help and are “on call” almost all day, many caregivers can get overwhelmed by the amount of care that they need to provide and can go on to report high stress levels.
There are a number of signs and symptoms that could point to caregiver stress include:
- Feeling overwhelmed
- Feeling alone
- Sleeping too much
- Gaining or losing a lot of weight
- Feeling tired
- Losing interest in activities
These high stress levels can affect caregivers in a number of ways, and if not treated properly, it could lead to more serious health problems.
Depression is more than just feeling down or blue, it is a mood disorder that causes a persistent feeling of sadness and loss of interest. During an episode of depression, there are a number of symptoms, including: changes in appetite, slowed thinking, frequent thoughts of death and more.
Weak Immune System
Stressed caregivers can spend more days sick with the cold or flue. A weakened immune system can also make vaccines like flu shots less effective and it may take longer to recover from surgery.
Stress, any kind including caregiver stress, can cause weight gain. Obesity raises risk for other health problems, including heart disease, stroke, and diabetes.
High levels of stress can raise your risk for health problems such as heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and arthritis.
Taking Care of Yourself
While being a caregiver can be hard, and you are unlikely to reduce stress completely, there are ways that you can take care of yourself and help to reduce the stress that you may feel. Here are a few things that may help you deal with the problems that you could be experiencing:
Talking to someone about the emotions that you may be feeling can be a cathartic experience and help you deal with the problems that you are facing. It doesn’t even have to be a therapist setting, talking to anyone, even friends, can help you get through some strong emotions that you may be feeling.
Physical exercise is one of the best ways to stay healthy both physically and mentally. Regular exercise can help reduce your risk of cardiovascular diseases, stroke, diabetes, and more. More importantly, exercise can get done on the same time as care giving. Offering to bring the person you’re responsible for on a short walk, or maybe even a light jog if they’re up for it, it not only a great way for both people to stay in shape, it can also prove to be valuable bonding time.
There are a number of little things that you need to keep in mind in order to stay healthy. For example, going to doctor checkups, taking medications, eating properly, getting enough sleep, and making time to relax are all things that are important for daily functioning health. While many of things are easy to take for granted during day to day life, if not taken seriously, they can lead to major health problems.
Asking For Help
Sometimes, taking care of yourself may need to take a priority. If this is the case, it may be in your best interest to ask someone else for help. Many caregivers will try to do too much on their own and accepting help from others isn’t always an easy thing to do. Many think, “I can handle this on my own.” But being a caregiver can get harder and harder and it is important to be honest with yourself when you need help with something or just need a break. Getting help can help you stay healthier and give you an opportunity to focus on your own health a bit more.
It is clear that caregivers have a tough and stressful situation. If caregivers do not take proper care of themselves, their physical and mental health could be at risk. Caregivers can suffer from a number of symptoms including feeling overwhelmed, feeling tired, being disinterested in a lot of things, and more. These problems can lead to other, more severe issues like depression, anxiety, decreased immune system functioning and more. However, there are a number of preventative steps you can take to help reduce the likelihood of dealing with these problems. Simple things like sleeping better, getting exercise, getting help and more can all be beneficial to your overall health.
Being a caregiver is a difficult task, and not everyone is up for it. And sometimes, the situation may become to hard for one person to deal with. If this is the case, it may be time to look into assisted living facilities. At Landmark Senior Living, we have a staff that is dedicated to helping our residents get the care they require and deserve. Our independent living facilities also offer residents a list of social activities that they can participate in to keep them happy during this chapter of their lives. If you are interested and would like more information, please reach out to our admissions team today.