The very full life of the American middle-aged woman can be at once wonderful and difficult. Careers are in full swing, children are coming and going from the home, and, as the general population ages and lifespan increases, the challenge of being a caretaker is often added to her plate.
“The typical family caregiver is a college-educated, married and employed 48-year-old woman who juggles several important duties,” explains Dr. Gary Levinson, medical director of the Cushman Wellness Center at the Sharp Memorial Outpatient Pavilion.
A full-time job, and so much more
Approximately 66 percent of family caregivers are women, according to the National Alliance for Caregiving and AARP. They will provide, on average, 20 hours of care each week and continue that level of commitment for close to five years.
That 20 hours of care is often on top of the 40 or more hours an employed caregiver puts in at work and the remaining time, if any, spent with family and other responsibilities. So it’s not surprising that employed caregivers find it more difficult to take time to care for their own health, often deferring mammograms and other preventive health screenings.
“Employed caregivers are more likely to report their own health as fair or poor in general, and significantly more likely to report major health conditions like diabetes, hypertension or pulmonary disease, regardless of age or gender,” says Dr. Levinson. “Twenty percent of employed female caregivers over 50 years old report symptoms of depression and younger female caregivers say they experience stress at home.”
With older relatives living longer, often with chronic illness, the job of a caregiver may last longer than anticipated and have a greater effect on personal health.
Caregivers should consider the following:
- Research the vast services available in San Diego including in-home care, housing, case management, support groups and more
- Be an informed caregiver — learn about the disease process of your loved one, including prognosis, course of the disease and treatment options
- Find balance between caring for parents and children
- Recognize that caring for an older adult is not the same as caring for a child — the older person needs to maintain dignity and independence as much as possible
- Be sure that the care recipient is safe physically, emotionally and financially
- Ask for help when you need it
- Celebrate and congratulate your successes as a caregiver
“Caregivers must remember to take care of themselves — eat well; exercise; spend enjoyable time with friends and family; find ways to reduce stress with yoga, meditation or simply some time outdoors; and, above all, maintain their own health and wellness,” says Dr. Levinson.
“We should no more neglect ourselves than neglect those in our charge.”