Currently, more than 15 million adults provide care to relatives, saving the formal health care system billions of dollars annually. Provision of care to a loved one can be overwhelming and often times the caregiver’s own needs fall by the wayside.
The majority of those providing care are the middle-aged adult, children and older spouses who support a parent or spouse with functional limitations. Studies have shown that caregivers are less likely to engage in preventive health behaviors due to their caregiving requirements.
Caregivers have decreased immunity, exhibit greater cardiovascular reactivity, and experience slow wound healing. Smaller subsets of caregivers are at increased risk for serious illness. Additionally, caregivers are more likely to have a chronic illness than non-caregivers; namely high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and a tendency to be overweight. Studies show that an estimated 46 percent to 59 percent of caregivers are clinically depressed.
The following three steps can help to combat these statistics.
- Setting Boundaries: Recognizing what you can and cannot do and stick to it can relieve some of the unnecessary burdens. Making a list of personal boundaries will hold you accountable – if you’re going beyond what you told yourself it’s time to find alternate sources of care. Ask a sibling to assist you, consider hiring a home health aide, or look into assisted living options.
- Communication: After you’ve set your boundaries it’s important to maintain open communication with the person you’re caring for. Talk to them about your caregiving role. You are a team and like all successful teams, you will do a better job if you regularly communicate. These conversations may be difficult but they are important.
- Respite Care: Providing yourself with moments of relaxation can allow you to provide high-quality care. Adult day programs can be a great help. They can provide the person you’re caring for with more opportunities to break away from home and socialize with others while giving you a moment for yourself.
Heeding these suggestions can be lifesaving – for instance, caregiving spouses between the ages of 66 and 96 that are experiencing mental or emotional strain, have a risk of dying that is 63 percent higher than that of people the same age who are not caregivers. Palliative care to you as a caregiver is very important. The first thing to do is maintain a proper healthy lifestyle to ensure that you’re there for your loved one when they need you. Asking for help isn’t a sign of weakness but shows wisdom in knowing your limitations. Seek out support from family members, friends, and support groups. You are not alone whether you are caring for someone with Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s or a disease as rare as Mesothelioma Cancer, there are others who also share similar concern and delight of taking care of someone you love.