Caring for an unwell or aging loved one can be the greatest gift you can give. It can also be a cause of great stress, leading to your own health and wellness concerns.
There are roughly 43.5 million caregivers in the U.S., of which two-thirds are women, according to the National Alliance for Caregiving and AARP. Approximately 34.2 million caregivers provide care to an adult age 50 or older.
“Although being a caregiver is an incredibly loving thing to do for another, it can lead to complications,” says Dr. Frank Ogle, a therapist with Sharp Mesa Vista Hospital. “Caregivers can experience emotional, mental and physical challenges.”
According to Dr. Ogle, the impact caregiving has on your health can lead to the following:
- Substance and alcohol abuse
- Chronic disease
- High levels of frustration
- Loss of self-identity
- Low self-esteem
- Increased risk for heart disease
- Lowered immune function
Dr. Ogle says that it is important for caregivers to monitor their health as diligently as they monitor the health of their loved one. Some signs of caregiver stress include withdrawing from people and activities they enjoy, feeling blue or irritable, exhaustion and increased illness.
“Caregivers must practice self-care,” Dr. Ogle says. “Take daily actions to attend to your own physical, mental and emotional well-being. Focus on a combination of mind, body and soul health.”
He offers some tips to cope with the stresses related to caregiving:
- Examine your thoughts — how we think affects how we act and feel
- Examine your behaviors and feelings that follow your thoughts and make changes as needed
- Practice physical self-care through balanced eating, avoiding mood-altering substances, getting quality sleep and exercising
- Practice emotional self-care through mindfulness, meditation, gratitude and relaxation
- Get support — discuss your stress with a trusted friend, loved one, support group or professional
- Know your limits and set realistic goals
Rather than telling yourself that your loved one’s illness is getting worse, the situation is dire or that you have no time for anyone or anything else, Dr. Ogle encourages you to instead acknowledge the challenge you’re facing and remind yourself that you’ve experienced other tough times and gotten through them.
“You may feel frustrated, fearful, angry and even guilty for feeling these things, but emotions are like waves and come and go,” he says. “Feel the emotions, have faith you can work through them and don’t forget to care for yourself just because you’re busy caring for someone else.”
Learn about health and community resources for caregivers of older adults at a free upcoming seminar at the North Park Library on July 25, presented by Sharp HealthCare, the official health and wellness partner of the City of San Diego.
For the news media: To talk with Dr. Frank Ogle about caregiver stress for an upcoming story, contact Erica Carlson, senior public relations specialist, at firstname.lastname@example.org.