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Posted: January 20, 2006

Spousal Caregiving

Is Caregiving Dangerous to Your Health?

Bill AndrewHave you ever considered that being a spousal caregiver can be dangerous to your health? I have, and I would like to share some ideas with you today that may help you to take care of yourself as well as keep you focused on the caregiving job at hand. 

 
A large Swedish study, the 3,500-person Stockholm Heart Epidemiology Programme (SHEEP), indicated that that if you operate under high-pressure deadlines and increased responsibilities, your work -- and you and I both know that being a spousal caregiver requires lots of work -- may in fact be dangerous to your personal health. 
 
Investigators found that men and women are more likely to have a heart attack if they take on increased responsibilities; men are six times more likely and women three times more likely. This is especially true if those responsibilities are those that they don't like. And for many of us spousal caregivers, we don't like what we are doing but we are doing it because of our love for our spouses.
 
The study also indicated that having a high-pressure deadline increased heart attack risk within the next 24 hours by a factor of six, meaning that such people are six times more likely to have a heart attack than people not under deadline pressure. While we spousal caregivers do not necessarily operate under high-pressure deadlines, we do have daily deadlines to meet that may compound over a period of time and actually build up to a high-pressure deadline, especially given the condition of our spouse.
 
When people deal with high-stress situations over an extended period, they typically tend to forget their own personal needs in order to focus on the project at hand, in this case providing care for our spouse. That makes spousal caregivers more vulnerable to health risks, and it may even suppress our immune systems which makes us even more vulnerable. This also can result in diminished quality of care for our spouses. Almost 100 years ago, Harvard researchers showed that people who work under constant pressure -- and this includes spousal caregivers -- perform their tasks more efficiently up to a certain point and then productivity "drops like a stone." 
 
That makes taking time to take care of yourself a real win-win scenario for everyone -- your spouse, yourself, your family -- everyone. So, what can we spousal caregivers do that will relieve the obvious stress under which many of us provide care for our spouses? 
 
According to several stress management experts, there are a number of things that you should be doing to take care of yourself and to stay focused:
  • Exercise daily. For example, a simple 20-minute walk early in the morning will give you huge dividends that will pay off for the rest of the day in improved mood and ability to focus. Taking this walk in the evening may also help you to sleep better.
  • Eat three nutritionally sound meals each day. Protein at each meal is important since the body uses it quickly under stress. Also include fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
  • Take a 30-minute break every day for YOU. For example, listening to classical music, not as background noise, but for your total relaxation has been shown to be as relaxing as 10mg of Valium. You could also try to meditate during this time. It has also been shown that women can reduce stress by calling a friend or doing housework. I am not sure how this would work for men but maybe it would.
  • Get a good night's sleep -- every night. This is a "must" -- no matter how busy you are. Your job as a spousal caregiver is often very tiring and sleep is the only way to recover and be ready for the next day.
  • Take vitamins and minerals daily. During times of stress, certain vitamin and mineral stores can get depleted -- leaving your body "running on empty." Stress management experts suggest good supplements such as calcium/magnesium, absorbable B-12, and twice-daily multi-B to help you better handle the stress from the inside out. I have a rather extensive daily protocol that I am sure has helped me to cope with being a 24/7 caregiver for my wife, Carol. Check out www.wfandrew.myglycostore.com
Experts indicate that you can take care of yourself in less than an hour a day using some of the suggestions above. But this is going to be time well spent resulting in increased productivity, relaxation, and continued enjoyment of life and ability to provide quality care for your spouse. This despite the increased pressure and responsibilities of spousal caregiving. 
 
I have addressed stress management in previous columns Dealing with Stress, Caregiver-Style and A Spousal Caregiver's Self-Assessment on Stress. And I will address it in the future since stress "goes with the territory" of spousal caregiving and we all need help in managing that stress.
 

The above has worked for me. Have some of those suggestions worked for you? If so, I would like to hear from you as to what works for you and what doesn't. Please share your spousal caregiving experience with other readers of this column by writing to me at ASKBill@caregivershome.com.

 

WORDS TO CARE BY. . .

"Adopting the right attitude can convert
a negative stress into a positive one."

Hans Selye, M.D., Ph.D., D.Sc. 
("The Father of Stress") (1907-1982)

 


Bill Andrew identifies himself as a former “nutritionally-empowered Alzheimer’s caregiver” who attributes the slow-down in progression of Alzheimer’s disease in his wife, Carol – and the growth of his own personal emotional, mental, physical, and spiritual capability and strength to provide quality 24/7 care for her in their own home – to the targeted nutritional supplements they both took on a daily basis. Carol went to her Heavenly reward on June 9, 2008 – Bill continues on to advocate for family caregivers. Contact Bill with your caregiving questions and comments via email at ASKBill@caregivershome.com.

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