Taking care of a loved one can be both rewarding and exhausting
Fifty-two million Americans are providing care for an adult with an illness or disability. Roughly 59 percent to 75 percent of caregivers are women.
If you’re among that 52 million, chances are you might have found caregiving to be rewarding; it also can take its toll. You’ve probably sacrificed some of your social life to care for your loved one. And you might pay less attention to your needs while caregiving. This can lead to caregiver stress. (More women than men caregivers report feeling stressed emotionally, physically or financially.) You may feel:
- Exhausted at the end of the day.
- Frustrated caring for someone with dementia who wanders away or is easily upset.
- Guilty because you want to provide better care.
- Lonely because your friends are keeping up with social activities and you’re not.
- Though you may feel perfectly healthy, it is not uncommon for caregivers to have serious health problems.
Research shows caregivers:
- Are more likely to be depressed or anxious
- Are more likely to have long-term health problems, such asarthritis, cancer, diabetes or heart disease
- Have difficulty fighting off illnesses such as the flu
- Have higher levels of obesity
- Heal more slowly from wounds
- And one study found that elderly people who felt stressed while taking care of a disabled spouse were 63 percent more likely to die within four years than caregivers who were not feeling stressed.
Part of the reason caregivers often have health problems is that they are less likely to take good care of themselves. But taking care of you is important. You have to be healthy in order to care for someone else. Reduce your stress with these tips:
- Ask for—and accept—help.
- Find out about caregiving resources in your community (think: meal delivery, transportation, day care centers, respite care services).
- Follow a regular, daily routine.
- Join a support group for caregivers in your situation.
- Make time each week to do something you enjoy—dinner with friends, a salsa class.
- See your doctor for routine checkups. Talk to her or him about any signs of depression or illness.
- Find time to be eat healthy foods, exercise and get enough sleep.