March 2015 Excerpts from my friend Karen Francis
How Caregiving Can Affect Your Health and What You Can Do About It
Nearly 1/3rd of adults in the United States-more than 65 million Americans-provide care for a family member or friend with an illness, disability, or chronic condition during any given year.
A 1/3rd of family caregivers report feeling depressed, and 60% feel extreme stress.
23% of family caregivers caring for a loved one for 5 years or more describe their health as fair or poor.
Family caregivers for seniors provide unpaid care worth $375 billion each year in the U.S.-care that would fall to the state if family caregivers did not step up. We provide an average of 20 hours a week of care, and many of us provide hands-on care around the clock. Eighty percent of long-term care provided at home is provided by family caregivers without any paid help. Fewer than 10 percent of elders receive all of their care from paid home-care workers or in a facility.
Unfortunately, federal, state and local governments are not providing family caregivers with the level of support we need. It’s a matter of limited funds, but also of ignorance. The day-to-day responsibilities of family caregivers often remain invisible (even to other family members and coworkers), and we don’t realize, as a community, how much family caregivers are suffering.
How caregiving can affect your health
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, family caregivers: •are more likely to be have symptoms of depression or anxiety •are more likely to have a long-term medical problem, such as heart disease, cancer, diabetes, or arthritis •have higher levels of stress hormones •spend more days sick with an infectious disease •have a weaker immune response to the influenza, or flu, vaccine •have slower wound healing •have higher levels of obesity, and •may be at higher risk for mental decline, including problems with memory and paying attention.”
Many of us know caregivers who died before the person they were caring for. One study referred to by the Office on Women’s Health found that “elderly people who felt stressed while taking care of their disabled spouses were 63 percent more likely to die within four years than caregivers who were not feeling stressed.”
The bottom line is that caregivers who receive assistance to maintain their own health will be less likely to die prematurely or need long-term care themselves. In monetary terms, investing in caregiver health now will pay dividends for years to come
What You Can Do
- Attend a support group – there are family caregiver support groups offered throughout this country. Go to the Alzheimer’s Association’s webpage to find one near you.
- Find a good substitute for your own hands! Many adult day programs, home care companies and personal care/assisted living communities offer respite care meaning, they will care for your loved one for a few days, a week- for a short stay.
- Become an advocate! By learning about the legislation already in action or proposed that may help our loved ones and caregivers, you can effectively educate others and ask your legislator to sponsor, cosponsor or vote for legislation that may help. There is a lot of legislation that has been passed in the passed few years, amended or proposed by our legislators at the state and federal government levels. Please go to the Azheimer’s association advocacy page to find out what has been passed and what we are hoping will pass. Sign up to become an advocate and communicate with your legislators directly by joining as an advocate.
You can provide the very best of care for your loved one – but your hands do not need to provide the care directly. Make promises to your family that you will always make sure they are cared for, happy and safe. You can do this by finding the very best in care out there, attend support groups and educate yourself about your loved ones condition and become an advocate to help your loved one and YOURSELF.
Karen Francis March 8, 2015 at 11:17am: I think I wrote this about a year ago Tru, you may certainly add to PWD Perspective·
Karen Francis March 13, 2015 at 3:26am
March is Brain Injury Awareness Month….
I don’t like to capitalize those words -brain injury. Some of you know that I sustained a traumatic brain injury (TBI) 2 years ago. My injuries sustained at that time have healed (with a few scars), but I’m not the same.
Since that time, I have lived with short term memory loss, problems with concentration, problems with balance, vision and seizures as a result of the head injury. I have spent most of my career working with the dementia population-running multiple support groups, educating others about Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias, lobbying for the Alzheimer’s Association, organizing caregiver conferences for the Lehigh Valley, caring for my Dad in my home until he passed at the age of 64 with vascular dementia – my plate was always more than full. I won awards for my work. Going to the neurologist and being prescribed Namenda was quite a blow at the age of 46. Namenda is not a drug that is written “off label” – it is prescribed for people with a dementia diagnosis.
Someone asked how to comfort his loved one that was recently diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s disease. She has been very upset, crying and feels like she is losing her mind. I told him that I know how she feels.
The best advice I could give him was to do his best to comfort her and ask the doctor about treatment for depression at this point. It is scary and depressing to realize that you are forgetting things that you shouldn’t. Feeling overwhelmed after 4 or 5 hours by too many people and too much activity around you when you were surrounded by people asking for your help from 7am until 8pm everyday – is devastating.
Every time I realize that I have forgotten something , I am stopped in my tracks. This is how the people in my groups felt. Years of studying the brain, the diseases of the brain do not prepare you for this. No matter how much you think you know, you don’t.
I have always kidded around with the people in the classes I taught and support groups that I would never fail a mini-mental status exam because I put the test to long term memory and knew the answers – apple, table, penny. My neurologist knows what I did for a living. She changed the questions for my cognitive exam.This is not funny.
People look at me and think there is nothing wrong. Someone who doesn’t understand how the brain works may think that my memory is fine because I can still write and talk about the brain and various forms of dementia. They don’t know that when I got up in the morning, I put the orange juice in the cabinet with the cereal. They don’t know that I have to check my computer or phone numerous times throughout the day so I know what day it is so I don’t take 2 days worth of medications in one day.
Please remember that because the wounds are healed on the outside, they may not be on the inside.
* Admin issues: SHARE dementia awareness thru buttons below. If interested in receiving notice of future blog postings there is a “follow” button in the upper left corner (MS Explorer) or lower right (Safari and Chrome). Feel free to leave your thoughts in the form of comments, but please filter your comments with truthful loving kindness to all concerned. If there is an advertisement below, I have no control over what is shown. — Copyright Karen Francis on 2015-03/08