Caregivers Face Increased Health Risks Compared with Non-caregivers

Published: Sep 03, 2020

In 2015, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention conducted a survey of more than 100,000 people regarding their personal health. According to Jacob Bentley, associate professor of clinical psychology at Seattle Pacific University and a co-author of the study, caregivers had a significantly higher risk (59%) of failing to go to the doctor or obtaining a needed health service.

The study, recently published in the journal Rehabilitation Psychology, noted that many caregivers also are at risk of developing a depressive disorder, and many have experienced physical, mental, or emotional issues that have negatively affected their daily lives.

According to ADI’s World Alzheimer 2019 Report, 52% of caregivers reported that their health had suffered.

However, it’s particularly worrying that 79% of respondents of the CDC survey claimed they didn’t need support services.

Some caregivers might initially think of themselves as being physically and mentally capable of managing on their own without help. Providing care for a family member with dementia is challenging, and it is almost impossible for a caregiver to do everything on their own.

 The reality is that most caregivers would ultimately need help, as dementia progresses, and the care needs of their loved ones increase.

Most of the times It’s not that caregivers fail to understand the importance of discussing their physical or mental symptoms with their physician. They are so accustomed to caring for a loved one, they make a choice to place their needs on hold to attend to the health and welfare of their loved ones.

If you are waiting for a less hectic time to see your physician, that would become more difficult and less likely as your loved one advances through dementia. Therefore, caregivers must find time to take care of their own health. If not, these seemingly minor heath issues would definitely catch up with you, sooner than later.

Major depression, high level of stress associated with caregiving, and lack of sleep also cause their own health problems.

According to the National Center on Caregiving, caregivers suffer from higher rates of physical disorders, and have an increased risk of contracting serious illnesses. Heart disease, diabetes, cancer, arthritis and chronic pain are twice as likely to affect caregivers than non-caregivers.

This situation is concerning, especially given that caregivers fail to present to a health professional for regular checkups.

Our advice to caregivers is to do it for yourself and for your loved one, too.  Do not allow your caregiving responsibilities to overpower your responsibility for your own health. Caregiving commitment should drive you to care for yourself so that you can continue caring for the ones you love.

Recommendations for caregivers

Seeing a doctor once a year for a whole physical checkup is essential for caregivers to stay abreast of health concerns. It is crucial that you keep watch of your numbers, including high blood pressure, blood glucose, etc. Please speak with a health professional about the following tests, screens, and other procedures:

  • Annual physical
  • Colonoscopy and other cancer screenings
  • Mammogram
  • Blood pressure reading
  • Blood glucose test
  • Eye exam
  • Hearing assessment
  • Bone density scan
  • Dental checkup
  • Flu vaccine

Besides the annual physical checkup, caregivers living with chronic health conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure and other cardiovascular risk factors should have regular 3-6 monthly follow-ups with their physician to keep these conditions under control.  If you have been experiencing sleep issues, anxiety, depression and other mental health concerns, these symptoms have to be addressed with your physician and the appropriate specialist, in a timely manner.

Give yourself the attention you need and deserve.  Do not talk yourself out of good health because you can’t get away. Call a trusted friend or a family member to sit with your loved one or look into respite care. Contact the local Alzheimer Society for suggestions about getting additional support and take advantage of the support that’s available to you.