As mentioned in the November issue of Today's Geriatric Medicine, nearly four of every 10 adults in the United States are involved in family caregiving for an elderly or disabled individual. One-half of them are caring for someone with Alzheimer’s disease or another type of degenerative neurologic condition.
The typical family caregiver is a woman between the ages of 45 and 50 who spends about 20 hours per week caring for one or both of her parents. She likely works outside the home and may still be raising her own children. Increasingly men are stepping up to the family caregiving role as well. Elderly spouses caring for each other are especially vulnerable as caregivers. The physical and emotional impact on caregivers can be even more detrimental to older adults who have other illnesses or age-related conditions.
Family caregiving can have some unexpected consequences. These statistics may surprise you. Caregivers have higher rates of depression, with almost 60% being diagnosed with depression at some point in their caregiving. Caregivers receive prescription medications for anxiety and insomnia at two to three times the rate of noncaregivers. Also observed, is that the immune system of chronically stressed long-term caregivers (those caring for patients with such diagnosis as Parkinson’s, stroke, dementia) is depressed, leading to lowered immune response and increased rates of cancer. For elderly women caregivers, their mortality rates (compared to age-matched noncaregivers) were elevated following their husbands’ hospitalizations. It’s often thought that caregiving is a purely emotional stress, but as these statistics illustrate, there are often serious impacts on the physical and emotional health of the caregivers.
By nature, caregivers will usually put their loved one's needs before their own. Caregivers often report that they will postpone their own mammograms, switched appointments with their loved ones, or fill a loved one’s prescription before their own when money was tight. Often a physician’s influence may be necessary before caregivers pay attention to their own needs.
A great way to raise awareness among family caregivers is to introduce them to the idea of “take your oxygen first.” These words to live by come from the instructions of flight attendants discussing emergency situations where it’s critical to place an oxygen mask on your own face before assisting others, but it’s a great metaphor for family caregivers. They must learn to protect their own health and well-being, or they will be unable to fill the role of caregiver.
Take Your Oxygen First is also the title of a book in which TV personality Leeza Gibbons and her family share their experience of caring for Leeza’s mother as she battled Alzheimer’s disease, an ordeal that challenged the well-being of her family. This book offers valuable advice on diet, nutrition, exercise, brain fitness, spiritual wellness, and more. The book gives caregivers tips on recognizing and managing depression, anger, anxiety, and other pitfalls of caregiving as well as the ways in which caring for the mind, body, and spirit prepares caregivers for the challenges ahead.
Gentle Home Services, Inc. is happy to provide caregiving resources to families in need of direction. Please contact our offices with any questions you may have.