Your health risks as a caregiver
Aug 10, 2012, 8:52 a.m.
Despite their best intentions, home health caregivers often discover they are at risk for their own health and well-being, emotionally, physically, and mentally. It is worthwhile for adult caregivers to step back and ensure that they are also taking care of their own needs. Caregiver stress is extremely common, but not always acknowledged by caregivers. Caregiver health is especially important when the caregiver is also an older person who may not rebound from the ravages of stress and burn-out as quickly as a younger person.
Caring for a loved one can be especially devastating to family members. A child caring for a parent who is homebound and unable to care for themselves not only is present to watch their beloved parent's health deteriorate, but they may also be severely restricted with regard to their own activities and ability to care for their own needs. Time constraints, lack of outside assistance or relief care can virtually trap the caregiver in some cases, such as with an advanced Alzheimer's patient who needs 24/7 care.
Along with the general health issues that come with age, stress can mean increased risks to caregiver health, like injuries from falling, reduced immune system response, and emotional problems that come from lack of time to socialize. This problem is recognized by the American Medical Association, as noted in their 1999 study that indicates family caregivers are more prone to early mortality.
Other problems arise from caregiver abuse by patients, which may occur even in the best of families as older ill persons lose their mental acuity and reason with certain diseases. Women are predominately the ones who end up being caregivers to family members. Under extreme stress, caregivers may neglect their personal needs, turn to drug or alcohol abuse, require more medical advice and tend to turn patients over to impersonal hospital or nursing home care as they experience burn-out.
For adult caretakers, it is important to understand that caregiver stress can cause serious problems and that caregiver health needs to become a priority for them. Without proper self-care, the caregivers may find they also will be requiring help managing their own lives prematurely.
If you are in a caregiver position, remember that you must get some respite care, perhaps a weekend away by yourself or other time breaks for self-care. As much as you love your family member, your own health needs to also be your priority. Find help so you do not endanger your mental, emotional or physical well-being.
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