The number of family caregivers in the country is substantial. Many members of a family will not hesitate to devote time and care to a loved one who did so much for them, which is an honorable thing to do. However, the importance of caregiver mental health and the actual capability to handle the job itself is something every family needs to address.
There are often caregivers taking care of a senior with a disease they know very little about at first, and have not had experience dealing with before. Memory loss conditions like Alzheimer’s and dementia can create confusion, agitation, and irritability in a senior that was otherwise never unhappy once before.
Memory loss can change relatives in ways we never thought we’d see. It is hard to watch any disease progress, but as the family caregiver, mental health can waver when they are at the frontlines of their care.
The Full Impact of Caregiving on Mental and Emotional Health
Depression, anxiety, and higher levels of stress are common in family caregivers. While providing loving care has its unmatched sense of reward, the hard days can take a mental and emotional toll on any caregiver.
Numerous studies have shown that caregivers have higher levels of symptoms of depression and mental health issues than their peers. Some estimates have even shown between 40% to 70% of caregivers have enough significant symptoms that they meet the diagnosis for major depression. Caregivers who are depressed may even find themselves facing other anxiety disorders, substance abuse, and chronic conditions.
Caregivers also have much higher stress levels than someone who does not provide care. Common feelings of anger, fatigue, guilt, and helplessness can be described by some. A loss of identity or self-esteem as a result from devoting less time to themselves can bring on a sense of low self-acceptance. Chronic stress is a detrimental aspect to mental health, as it can lead to a greater risk for decline in cognitive function, short-term memory, and attention.
How Caregiving Can Affect Physical Health
With sleep likely being lost from a mental and emotional struggle, and the amount of hours that can go into providing care for a loved one, physical health starts to fall victim as well. Caregivers have a greater risk of illness, and even more infections as the immune system begins to falter.
Acid reflux, headaches, and body pain result from stress and physical exertion comes from tasks like moving a loved one out of bed, bathing, and other physical care components. Another aspect of physical health decline can stem from a caregiver being less likely to engage in preventive health behaviors, by taking more focus on a loved one’s doctor’s visits rather than their own.
The tendency of grabbing quick meals and fast food during each busy day does not contribute to a healthy diet. Lack of energy makes it hard to be willing to do outdoor exercise. These physical aspects of health fuel our mind and bring us happy emotions and hormones. Without it, caregiver mental health can fail alongside it.
Creating a Healthy Lifestyle for the Caregiver
One of the biggest solutions to faltering caregiver mental health, is for them to simply ask for help. Asking for another family member to take over and watch a loved one for a few hours while the caregiver runs an errand or does an activity that they enjoy is something many are afraid to do.
Guilt may surface from wanting to take time away from a senior they are caring for, but the understanding needs to be in place that it is okay to make sure that the caregiver is also receiving enough self care. It’s a component to caregiving that is just as important as the routine and schedule of care for a senior.
At Kensington Place, we are your partners in memory care. Our neighborhoods cater to all levels of memory loss in Alzheimer’s and dementia to bring the individualized care they need, with the love they deserve. If you or a family member or friend find themselves becoming overwhelmed with caregiving, we can help make sure your loved one is safe and cared for, so that you can be gifted with more quality time that encourages special moments.