In the United States, approximately 29 percent of the population provides care for a chronically ill, disabled, or aging family member or friend during any given year. Nearly 20 hours per week are spent providing care, according to National Alliance for Caregiving in collaboration with AARP in 2009. Furthermore, the stress of caring for a loved one with chronic illness such as dementia has been proven to impact a caregiver’s immune system for up to three years after their caregiving ends according to a study by Doctors JanieKiecolt Glaser and Ronald Glaser. The statistics shown provide enough detail for the importance of care for not only the loved one but the caregiver themselves.
As a caregiver, you must place the care of yourself over priority of your loved one. Statistics show that nearly 55 percent of caregivers’ skip appointments made for themselves, in addition, 63 percent report having poor eating habits and lack of exercise according to the National Alliance for Caregiving and Evercare. Taking steps to place attention on yourself as a caregiver may mean keeping scheduled appointments, maintaining your own health by getting adequate amounts of sleep, and stepping away when you feel run down.
“As a caregiver, you must place the care of yourself over priority of your loved one.”
Stress management is also essential for caregivers. Studies conducted by Elissa S. Epel from the Department of Psychiatry at the University of California show that stress from giving care has been shown to age the caregiver prematurely, as much as taking 10 years off a family caregiver’s life! By accepting the condition of your loved one and being realistic about the amount of time and energy you can commit to them, you can have more room to live your life more fully, outside of your loved one.
Understanding that you are doing the best you can do and that it’s normal to feel guilty when you are doing something for yourself is one step towards awareness and stressing less. Knowing that there are services and organizations that have knowledge and experience for patients who are dealing with specific diseases to help your loved one if and when they are unable to care for themselves adequately. These organizations specialize in treatments and care that you may not be able to provide. Taking the time to read into these programs and services are well worth your time and the quality of life for yourself and your loved one will be much greater.