Gayle Reeves' Blog

Caregiver Stress

Gayle A. Reeves - Friday, August 06, 2010

I recently came across a study done by a research team at The Ohio State University. It focused on the effect the stress of caregiving had on caregivers. The team conducted a 6-year study of elderly people caring for spouses with Alzheimer’s disease. The results were astounding to say the least. Not only was there a significant deterioration in the health of the caregivers, but it also found that the caregivers had a 63% higher death rate than a similar group of non-caregivers. Reported in the June 30, 2003 issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The stress involved in caring for a loved one takes its toll on the caregiver both physical and mentally. Caregivers showed a higher level of depression and anxiety, increased alcohol and substance abuse, increased rates of physical ailments and a lower immune system. Additionally, caregivers were less likely to seek medical attention for their health conditions.  In my practice I have seen this very thing happen time and time again.  The caregiver wears themselves out caring for their loved one.  They become so run down and drained that they don’t even recognize what is happening to them.

For all of you who are caregivers and for all of you who know a caregiver, please take a moment to step back and assess your situation. If you are under a lot of stress, here are some suggestions to help you:

  1. Ask for help. Find out what resources are available to help you. Ask friend and family members for assistance with such things a household chores, transportation, and meal preparation.
  2. Assessment and Care Plan. Have an assessment done to determine the needs of the caregiver and the loved one. A care plan can then be developed that will include support services to aid the caregiver.
  3. Take a break. Caregivers need a break from their job just like anyone else. Whether it is 2 hours or 1 week find a way to make time for yourself. If you don’t know anyone who can help you, there are many organizations that offer respite care.
  4. Find a support group. There are many people in the same situation as yours. Finding that support group will make you feel less alone, and you may find ways of making your life a little easier and less stressful.
  5. Look for alternatives.Sometimes you just have to admit that you cannot provide the care anymore. Look for alternatives that will best meet the needs of your loved one and you, whether it's hiring homehealth services, assisted living or nursing home care.

Keep in mind, that unless you take care of yourself, you will not be able to care for your loved one.