A caregiver is someone who gives basic care to a person who has a chronic medical condition. A chronic condition is an illness that lasts for a long time or doesn’t go away. Some examples of chronic conditions are cancer, effects of stroke, multiple sclerosis, arthritis, diabetes, and Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia. The caregiver helps the person with tasks such as preparing and eating food, taking medicine, bathing, and dressing. Acting as someone’s primary caregiver can be stressful and can be taxing on one’s health as well.
As a caregiver, am I at risk for health problems?
Yes. Because being a caregiver is so hard, your health may suffer. You may feel stressed or overwhelmed by being a caregiver. You may find that you spend much of your time caring for others, but neglect your own health. Some of the tasks of being a caregiver, such as lifting or bathing your loved one, may put extra strain on your body. Being a caregiver also can cause financial stress, and you may avoid going to the doctor so you don’t have to pay for visits or treatments. All of these things can affect your emotional, mental, and physical health.
What health problems am I at risk for?
Studies show that caregivers have an increased risk for the following health problems:
• Alcohol, tobacco, and drug abuse
• Anxiety disorders
• Heart disease, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and heart attack
• Pain, such as muscle or joint pain and headaches
• Stress and depression
Strategies for maintaining caregiver wellness:
• Eat a balanced diet. This may be easier than you think because you may be sharing meals with your loved one, who will also need to eat balanced, healthy meals.
• Get plenty of rest. If you’re short on sleep, take naps when your loved one does. If you can’t sleep because your loved one wanders or is restless at night (this is common in people who have dementia), investigate additional educational material or books designed to assist the caregiver with this issue.
• Exercise. Thirty to 60 minutes of exercise 4 to 6 times a week can give you more energy, reduce stress, and improve your mood. If your loved one is up for it, you can walk or find another type of exercise to do together.
• Set personal health goals. For example, set a goal to establish a good sleep routine or to find time to be physically active on most days of the week. It’s also crucial to fuel your body with healthy foods and plenty of water.
The emotional and physical demands involved with caregiving can strain even the most resilient person. That’s why it’s so important to take advantage of the many resources and tools available to help you provide care for your loved one. Remember, if you don’t take care of yourself, you won’t be able to care for anyone else.
To help manage caregiver stress:
• Accept help. Be prepared with a list of ways that others can help you, and let the helper choose what he or she would like to do. For instance, one person might be willing to take the person you care for on a walk a couple of times a week. Someone else might offer to pick up groceries or cook for you.
• Focus on what you are able to provide. It’s normal to feel guilty sometimes, but understand that no one is a “perfect” caregiver. Believe that you are doing the best you can and making the best decisions you can at any given time.
• Set realistic goals. Break large tasks into smaller steps that you can do one at a time. Prioritize, make lists and establish a daily routine.
Begin to say no to requests that are draining, such as hosting holiday meals.
• Get connected. Find out about caregiving resources in your community. Many communities have classes specifically about the disease your loved one is facing. Caregiving services such as transportation and meal delivery may be available.
• Join a support group. A support group can provide validation and encouragement, as well as problem-solving strategies for difficult situations. People in support groups understand what you may be going through. A support group can also be a good place to create meaningful friendships.
• Seek social support. Make an effort to stay well-connected with family and friends who can offer nonjudgmental emotional support. Set aside time each week for connecting, even if it’s just a walk with a friend.
• See your doctor. Get recommended immunizations and screenings. Make sure to tell your doctor that you’re a caregiver. Don’t hesitate to mention any concerns or symptoms you have.
We here at Life Care of Estero are here to improve the health of the community for which we serve. As part of this vision, we provide a team of highly skilled Physical, Occupational, and Speech Therapists and the latest in cutting edge rehabilitation technology such as the AlterG anti-gravity treadmill and the Biodex balance system to help you regain your independence and facilitate you reaching your personalized goals. Please call our outpatient rehabilitation department at (239) 495-4046 if you have any questions or think we can help you reach your rehabilitation goals.
Caregiver Health by Family Caregiver Alliance ( April 10, 2012)
Caregiver stress fact sheet by U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office on Women’s Health ( April 10, 2012)
Life Care Center of Estero
239.495.4000 | 3850 Williams Rd. | Estero, FL 33928 | www.lifecarecenterofestero.com