Caregivers Need Care Too
Caregiving can be stressful, and constant stress can take a toll on physical health and well-being. In fact, caregiving spouses between 66 and 96 years of age experience chances for dying that are 63 percent higher than people in the same age group who are not caregivers. Studies also show that caregivers for people with chronic dementia sometimes end up in the hospital themselves due to the demands associated with caregiving.
A recent review study looked at earlier research examining the effects of caring for patients with dementia. The study focused on differences in the health and cognition of caregivers versus non-caregivers summarizing changes attributed to chronic stress. The review assessed data from 37 studies with 4,145 participants, 749 of which were dementia caregivers and 3,396 of which were non-caregiving peers. Physical markers included signs of inflammation, cellular aging and problems with blood coagulation. Additional markers included immune function, sleep and cognition
Although the 37 studies varied in design and quality, the majority showed that caregivers for people with dementia were more susceptible to problems with physical and cognitive health. Research found that caregivers experience greater chances for developing chronic illness including high cholesterol, high blood pressure and obesity. Unfortunately, health problems can weaken the ability to provide the best care for others.
Because caregiving for patients with dementia is often an emotional roller coaster, those doing the job are also at a higher risk for depression and substance abuse. In fact, it is estimated that 46 to 59 percent of these caregivers suffer from clinical depression.
Regardless of increased risks for problems, caregivers are less likely to care for themselves when it comes to physical and emotional health than non-caregivers. Many report sleep deprivation, poor eating habits, lack of exercise, inadequate rest when ill, and failure to visit the doctor. While caregivers can't stop the progression of illness in a loved one, they can do something about the impact to their own well-being.
Letting Go of Guilt
Caregivers often experience feelings of guilt if they place themselves first. Recognition of this obstacle is the first step toward extinguishing it. Without proper self-care, caregivers are actually doing their loved one a disservice. After all, a person who is physically and emotionally spent can't provide optimal care to someone else.
Letting Go of Control
Some caregivers have difficulty with control, and this can result in feelings of frustration and failure when faced with dementia. Sometimes it helps to identify what can and cannot be changed. Then, caregivers can make positive changes if possible and hopefully let the rest go.
Stress ReductionTaking steps to reduce stress can offer some sense of control to a caregiver and improve emotional health. Options for reducing stress levels include taking daily walks, doing yoga, gardening, meditation, taking a bath, reading a good book, or talking with friends.
Asking for Help
Asking for help when needed is not a sign of weakness, but rather a sign of personal strength. Caregivers should not wait until they are overwhelmed to ask for assistance. It is important to take advantage of any support offered by friends and family and to seek assistance through the medical community. Caregivers may want to make a list of ways that others could help like grocery shopping, meal preparation, yard work, or a 15-minute caregiving break. If a request for help is denied, caregivers should try not to take it personally. It is the task rather than the caregiver that is being rejected.
Getting Adequate Nutrition and Exercise
Plain and simple, a nutritious diet rich in whole grains, lean proteins, fruits, vegetables and healthy fats boosts overall health. Regular physical exercise helps promote better sleep, reduces stress, and boosts mental and physical energy.
Caregivers need to remember that it is not selfish to focus on their own needs. In fact, it is vital to doing a good job. To maintain optimal health, caregivers should practice good self-care techniques and occasionally take time off. If you are in the caregiving industry, it’s also important to stay healthy by taking natural supplements.