It is a commonly known fact that most seniors want to age at home. What isn’t as widely known is that in order to do so, 78% of aging adults living in the community depend on family and friends as their only source of help. More than 65 million people, according to the National Alliance for Caregiving are providing care for a chronically ill, disabled, or aged individual, spending an average of 20 hours per week each year providing care for their loved one. This care is entirely uncompensated, while the value of it is estimated to be $375 billion each year. That is almost twice as much than what is actually spent on formal homecare and nursing home services combined.
Unfortunately, informal caregiving takes a toll on those who are providing the care. One of the most staggering statistics related to this phenomenon is that approximately 30% of caregivers die before those they are caring for. Many others are sick and struggling day in and day out.
Many caregivers are spouses- some the same age or even older than their loved one that they are caring for. Elderly spouses are often dealing with their own health issues and overall physical decline that comes with aging. It can be extremely dangerous to have “the blind leading the blind”; in other words someone caring for another that is in poor medical condition themselves.
Neglecting oneself. Caregivers often don’t find time to go to their own doctor appointments because they are either too busy with the task of caregiving, or can’t handle the idea of going to another doctor on their “day off”. They do not prioritize their own care but only that of their loved ones. In light of this preventative health measures and routine screenings for illness do not occur, which means conditions like breast cancer for example are not caught at an early stage when they can be treated, but instead aren’t found until progressed and even life threatening.
Moreover, a 2005 study done by Evercare and the National Alliance for Caregiving reported that more than 60% of caregivers report that their eating habits became worse after beginning to provide informal care to a loved one and over 50% reduced or stopped all exercise. The fact that caregiving takes a lot of the individual’s time most likely accounts for the neglect in caring for oneself- he or she has cut out those self care activities in order to find the time to care for their loved one.
Long term effects of Stress. Studies done by the National Academy of Sciences have shown that Family caregivers experiencing extreme stress have been shown to age prematurely, and have increased likelihood of developing a chronic illness themselves. This level of stress can take as much as 10 years off a family caregiver’s life. Specifically, those caregiving for loved ones with dementia have been shown to experience a negative impact on their immune system for up to three years are their caregiving experience is over.
Balancing Act. Many caregivers are adult children of the individual requiring care. These caregivers are often juggling the duties of caregiving with work and raising children,in fact six of ten family caregivers are employed. More than 60% of them have reported caregiving having an impact on their work life including having to take a leave of absence and/or leaving work entirely.
Our previous blog article, Balancing Work and Caregiver Duties explores the many challenges that family caregivers face in the work force and some suggestions for overcoming those challenges. This article can be found in our August, 2018 archives.
Caring for the Caregiver. Careful planning and taking preventative measures to avoid burnout are integral pieces of an effective strategy. It is important to make time for oneself, to just take a break or participate in activities that you enjoy. By asking a friend or family member to help share in the caregiving tasks, you can free up some time to do so. If there is no one to do this, arranging for a professional Caregiving Agency to provide relief care on a regularly scheduled basis can be an option. There are also adult day cares that often work on a sliding scale, that you could turn to for respite help. Your local agency on aging should be able to provide you with resources.
Support groups for caregivers allow for the members to express their concerns and fears and can help reduce stress. If your loved one has a specific chronic illness diagnosis, you could turn to the foundations for support groups specific to that diagnosis on your area.
Our seniors rely on their caregivers, and the caregivers are as important as the people the care for. As a community we must recognize their challenges and help them to overcome. As much as it takes a village to care for little children, the same applies in elder care.
Elissa S. Epel, Dept of Psychiatry, Univ of Calif, SF, et al,
From the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Dec 7, 2004, Vol 101, No. 49.
Drs. Janice-Kiecolt Glaser and Ronald Glaser,
“Chronic stress and age-related increases in the proinflammatory cytokine IL-6.”
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, June 30, 2003.
Evercare Study of Caregivers in Decline: A Close-Up Look at Health Risks of Caring for a Loved One.
National Alliance for Caregiving and Evercare. 2006.
About the Author: Pam Reynolds, CMC is the President and co-owner of Allegiance Aging Care Services. Pam has spent almost fifteen years working in senior care including long term care facilities and home health care. Her higher education is in Social Work, and she has been credentialed as both a certified Geriatric Care Manager and Licensed Assisted Living Administrator. Read more about Pam and her team of Aging Care Professionals here.