The Emotional and Physical Impact of Care on Caregivers’ Health
It is estimated that 44 million people eighteen years of age and older in the United States provide unpaid assistance to adults who are aging or have disabilities. The value of this unpaid group is almost double that of both the nursing home ($115 billion) and home health care industries ($43 billion), coming in at $306 billion annually. While this shows a remarkable amount of care for one’s family and community, evidence shows that most caregivers do not have the necessary support they need and are not prepared for what is required of them. This has created an entire group of people who are at risk for having emotional and physical problems of their own while they care for others. As a result, it is extremely important to prepare for the possibility of being a caregiver in advance to help alleviate the effects of caring for others down the line.
In terms of emotional strain, caregivers are more susceptible to clinical depression than those who are not primary caregivers, with 40%-70% of caregivers having signs of depression and another 25%-50% actually meeting the diagnostic criteria of major depression. Additionally, caregivers are more likely to have higher levels of stress and frustration than those that are not adding being a primary caregiver on top of their daily routine. Studies shows that 16% of caregivers say they feel emotionally strained while being a caregiver, while 13% report that the lack of progress of their care recipient highly increases their level of frustration. Meanwhile, 22% of them said that after a day of caregiving they feel fully exhausted by the time they go to bed at night. It is hard work taking care of those you love that are in need— especially if you are ill equipped to do so.
As for the physical health of caregivers, 11% felt that their overall health had worsened since starting to provide care. In 2005, ⅓ of non-caregivers reported fair or poor overall health, while ⅗ of caregivers reported the same. As a result of the focused attention they provide for others, caregivers have also been proven to take part in less preventative healthcare measures. This includes not filling their own prescriptions and missing doctor appointments. Additionally, the higher probability of having stress hormones present in caregivers leads to an increased rate of high blood pressure and heart disease in the group. In order to help deal with stress, caregivers are also more likely to turn to smoking, consumption of saturated fats, substance abuse, and alcohol abuse as a means of coping.
So what can be done to make sure you don’t become a part of these statistics as a caregiver? Start by researching various support networks and educating yourself. For example, the Family Caregiver Alliance is a community based non-profit organization can help provide information, services, and advocacy. Additionally, think about long term care insurance to help allow you to be able to choose the type of care that works best for you and those you love. With long term care insurance your family could supervise the care provided by trained and paid caregivers, thus not incurring the health hazards common to familial caregivers. Start planning caregiving early and be willing to communicate openly and frequently about the subject. This will not only help those you are responsible for caring for, but yourself as well. In turn, everyone will be happier and healthier.