Who cares for the caregivers? Taking responsibility for a family member in need can be a full-time job. Many adults in the U.S. informally take care of an ill spouse, disabled child or aging family member. These caregivers often miss out on self-care opportunities and may experience their own negative health consequences as a result.
Caregivers should take steps to make time for self care and they should not be afraid to ask for help when they need it.
How daily responsibilities impact caregiver well-being
Caregivers face a number of challenges every day, outside of their caregiving responsibilities. Essential tasks such as grocery shopping and house cleaning can fall by the wayside as other important responsibilities take up additional time and energy. Over the long term, these stressors can add up, to the detriment of the caregiver's mental and physical well-being.
In fact, research from the University of Pittsburgh found that caregiving spouses between the ages of 66 and 96 have a 63 percent higher mortality risk than non-caregivers within the same age bracket.
Furthermore, the Family Caregiver Alliance reports that, regardless of age or sex, caregivers often experience sleep deprivation, lack of exercise, poor dietary habits and postponement of their own medical appointments. Emotions can run high, causing further stress on the caregiver's body, negatively impacting the individual's health.
These issues are not limited to a small group of people. According to the Mayo Clinic, roughly 1 in 3 adults provide care as an informal caregiver. Many of these individuals do not classify themselves as caregivers, and therefore miss out on opportunities for support.
Why self care for caregivers is important
One reason caregivers may fail to take responsibility for their own personal care is because they feel selfish for doing so. Often, thinking about one's own problems leads to even deeper fears, such as what will happen if one is no longer able to care for a family member. These fears are legitimate, but caregivers should address them, lest they risk damaging their own well-being.
According to the National Cancer Institute, caregivers experience a range of conflicting emotions, including anger, grief, guilt and loneliness. For many caregivers, the first step to dealing with these negative emotions is to understand that it is completely normal to feel them. Every caregiver experiences these emotions on occasion and it can help to explore them with the help of a counselor, therapist or trusted family member.
When caregivers feel overwhelmed by their responsibilities, they should know it's all right to ask for help. In fact, the American Society on Aging provides a comprehensive list of organizations that provide care for caregivers.
What friends and family can do to help out
Caregivers should feel comfortable asking friends and family for help. Not everyone will be able to provide help. However, there's a good chance that these individuals want to offer assistance, but don't know how. Asking for specific assistance is a good way for caregivers to receive the help they need.
For instance, caregivers can request friends and family to assist with simple tasks around the home, such as cooking, cleaning, yard work or shopping. Family members can also make phone calls and find information the caregiver needs to provide for their loved one. These small activities can add up, freeing the caregiver to take care of their own needs so they can feel energized, rested and ready to provide care.
To learn more about how to support caregivers, visit our resource center.