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Posted: August 11, 2006

Spousal Caregiving

A Healthy Caregiver is a More Effective Caregiver

Bill Andrew

How’s your health? Do you realize that as a caregiver, your own health may be at risk?
 
This is especially true in a variety of spousal caregiving roles: If you are an elderly person caring for an elderly spouse with serious health problems, or dealing with the general trials and tribulations of advanced age, you are definitely at risk for health problems of your own. 
 
Obviously, as a spousal caregiver, the caregiving you provide is very important for the health and wellbeing of your spouse. Just as obviously, you would not be doing what you are doing if you did not love your spouse and have the commitment to provide that care. Therefore, while you are busy and concerned with taking care of your spouse, it is important to recognize how caregiving may affect your own health -- physically, mentally, and emotionally. 
 
A recent issue of the AARP Health & Wellness Newsletter featured an article on caregiver health with a focus on checkups and prevention. I wanted to share the wisdom of this article with you so you can take preventive steps to maintain your personal health as you provide for the health needs of your spouse. 
 
Physical Effects

Researchers have found that caregivers are less healthy compared to non-caregivers and tend to exhibit more of the following:
  • Decreased ability to fight illness 
  • Slower healing rates
  • Higher hospitalization rates
  • Higher death rates
  • Higher incidence of headaches, gastro-intestinal problems and insomnia
  • Increased risk of heart disease
  • Increased rates of poor general health
There is a proven mind-body connection, and often the high rate of physical problems in caregivers is closely tied to the mental effects of caregiving. 
 
Mental Effects
 
According to research, caregivers have significantly higher levels of depression as compared to non-caregivers, which increases the risk of poor physical health. Why? Research has shown that depression and other mental health effects are significant risk factors for common chronic conditions such as coronary heart disease, cancer and diabetes. The following are examples of psychological effects common to caregivers. 
  • Depression
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Stress/ Burden
  • Guilt
  • Higher incidence of suicide
Emotional Effects
 
Caregivers who are also spouses, siblings, offspring, parents, etc., often exhibit outward signs related to the stress in their lives. Emotional signs of caregiver stress and exhaustion include:
  • Anger at self and the loved one
  • Social withdrawal from friends and activities   
  • Irritability leading to moodiness
  • Negative thoughts and reactions
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Problems at work
  • Alcohol and other substance use  
Available Resources
 
However, all is not negative -- there is good news for caregivers! Research also clearly shows that access to a good social support network can offset some of the physical, mental, and emotional effects many caregivers deal with. To win this battle, try this:    
  • Seek help for depression or stress. Don’t be afraid to recruit family and friends to help, or join a caregiver support group. The first step is the hardest, but you will be glad you did.
  • Call your local Area Agency on Aging. Find out about respite programs, caregiver care coordination and other caregiver programs. Take advantage -- they are there to help you.
  • Inform yourself.  Seek out educational resources online or at your local community or senior centers.
  • Visit your own doctor regularly. Prioritize your health; it is just as important to care for yourself as it is for the one that you love.  If you can relate to any of the above physical, mental, and/or emotional effects that may have resulted from your caregiving activity, you should definitely discuss these problems with your doctor.
Caregiver Health Tips
 
There are other simple steps you can take to help you stay healthy as you care for others. Print, cut and paste this list on your refrigerator as a reminder: 
  • Listen to your body. Your body will tell you when you are pushing yourself too hard.
  • Pay attention to nutrition. Take your vitamins and make a good diet a part of your life.
  • Exercise! Try to squeeze it into your schedule, incorporate it into what you already do.  Try walking more and see how your energy increases.
  • Take time off. It is often easier said than done, but even just an hour can make a world of difference. Use family or community support to make this happen.
  • Try relaxation techniques. You can do them anywhere, and they can often give you that extra energy you need. Do breathing exercises, meditate before bed, or try aromatherapy. Individualize, and do what works for you.  
There are many resources available to caregivers. The links and references on our website are a good starting place -- check them out. 
 
This discussion of your health is a good starting point for you, as a spousal caregiver, to develop a checklist of issues and concerns you may encounter while providing care and activities. For me personally, I have recognized many of the physical, mental, and emotional effects early-on in this caregiving "journey" and have dealt with them. This column is my way of sharing my experiences as a spousal caregiver in the hopes that other spousal caregivers will learn from my experiences and help them in becoming better caregivers for their respective spouses. 
 
Have you experienced any of the above? If so, send me an email at ASKBill@caregivershome.com and share your experiences with other readers of this column. God bless you on your spousal caregiving "journey."
 
WORDS TO CARE BY . . .
 
 
Hippocrates (460 - 377 BC)


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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© 2006 Pederson Publishing, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Commercial use, redistribution or other forms of reuse of this information is strictly prohibited without the prior written permission of Pederson Publishing.

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