You’re the person everyone turns to when they need help. Your spouse asks you to pick up things from the store on your way home from work. Your children come to you for advice. You don’t know what the folks at work would do without you. And your parents depend on you for companionship, transport, medical supervision, home maintenance and, perhaps, even more.
Some days, you feel like you’re running from place to place, putting out fires that spring up again as soon as you leave. You can’t keep on living like this. Not only will you fail to provide your loved ones with the help they need, you may destroy your health.
Caregiver Health Statistics
If it’s any consolation, you’re not alone. Caregiving is bad for your health, numerous studies show.
- 11% of family caregivers report that caregiving has caused deterioration in their physical health.
- 23% of family caregivers (5 years or more) report their health as fair or poor.
- 72% of family caregivers report they don’t go to the doctor as often as they should.
- 63% of caregivers report having poor eating habits compared to non-caregivers.
- 58% of caregivers say they have worse exercise habits than before caregiving responsibilities.
- 40% to 70% of family caregivers have clinically significant symptoms of depression. Up to 50% of these caregivers meet the diagnostic criteria for major depression.
- Stress of family caregiving for persons with dementia may impact a person's immune system for up to 3 years after their caregiving ends.
- Family caregivers experiencing extreme stress age prematurely, subtracting as many as 10 years from their lifespan.
Risk Factors for Caregiver Stress
The Mayo Clinic has identified the following risk factors for stress that may impact the caregiver’s health:
- High school education or less
- Cohabitating with the person being cared for
- Social isolation
- Depression (often, caregiving causes depression)
- Financial pressures
- Higher number of caregiving hours
- Lack of problem-solving skills
- No choice in being a caregiver
Do these statistics and risk factors apply to you? If so, you need to change your life immediately.
Tactics to Manage Your Health as a Caregiver
How do you maintain your health when you’re a caregiver?
- Get enough sleep. Sleep is one of the pillars of the life you’re building. It affects physical and mental health. The Mayo Clinic has these tips to improve your sleep.
- Eat nutritiously and mindfully. Proper nutrition is critical in maintaining health and alleviating stress. It, too, is one of the pillars of a healthy lifestyle. If you’re having difficulty finding time to eat healthy, plan ahead and keep nutrition bars handy. “Eat This Not That” has a list of the 16 top nutrition bars for every goal.
- Make time for exercise. You can’t neglect exercise if you want to remain healthy. If you have difficulty finding time to exercise at the gym, go for a walk with your family or mow your parent’s lawn. Try to increase your exercise to 150 minutes a week—just 30 minutes a day.
- Practice mindfulness. Whether you go to church, meditate, do yoga or practice deep breathing, take time each morning to clear your mind so you can focus the rest of the day. Any sort of mindfulness practice reduces stress and the risk of stress-related disease and increases concentration and creativity.
- See your doctors regularly. Doctors include your dentist, optometrist, and physician.
- Get immunized. If you’re sick with pneumonia or the flu, who will take care of you?
- Learn problem-solving skills. Too often, caregivers are like the woodcutter who’s too busy to sharpen his ax. Learn new tactics to save time and improve your family’s lives. Join a Facebook or support group to get new ideas and, perhaps, some practical help.
- Practice environmental hygiene. Your environment affects your health. If your car is full of water bottles and trash, clean it up. If your room is painted in gloomy colors, brighten it—and your outlook.
- Take time for yourself. Don’t feel guilty about caring for yourself. If you don’t take time for yourself, you won’t be able to care for anyone else. Take a vacation (many senior living communities, such as The Arbors Assisted Living Communities, offer short stay or respite care). Have a spa day. Go golfing with your buddies. Ask a sibling or even your child to step in and help.
- Plan for the future. Your family situation is not going to stay the same. Your parent may need more care than you can provide. Your own health may decline. Consider caregiving options, such as an Assisted Living community. Purchase long-term care insurance. Get vital documents from your parent so you’re prepared. AARP has an excellent guide for caregivers here.