A new study suggests that caregiving, especially for difficult patients such as those with Alzheimer’s Disease, can shorten caregivers’ lives by four to eight years. This stress shows up at the genetic and molecular level in the bodies of the caregivers. The study out of Ohio State University looked at numerous people in different life situations, looking for the indications of stress. One of the most stressed-out groups was caregivers. Other studies have found that caregivers are less healthy compared to non-caregivers. This broad study is not the final word on this subject, but as any caregiver knows, it is a stressful situation.
The common conditions suffered by caregivers are:
- Higher hospitalization rates
- Higher death rates
- Higher incidence of headaches and insomnia
- Increased risk of heart disease
- Anxiety disorders
- Higher incidence of suicide
AARP has several articles and tips on its website for dealing with caregiver stress. Here are some of them:
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 doctor regularly. Prioritize your health; it is just as important to care for yourself as it is for the one that you love.
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. Do what works for you.