Taking care of yourself critical for caregiver

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By Micha Shalev

By the year 2030, an estimated 20 percent of the U.S. population will be 65 years or older. As the American population ages, a growing number of people will be serving as caregivers for family members affected by dementia and other types of functional impairment. Dementia is present in 10 percent of individuals older than 65 years and in 47 percent of those older than 85 years.

Caregiving is such a small and innocent word for such a large and often stressful job.

While many understand that caring for someone with memory impairment can be physically, mentally and emotionally exhausting, few realize they could be putting their own health at risk. A study of elderly spouse caregivers, aged 66 to 96, found that caregivers who experience mental or emotional strain have a 63 percent higher risk of dying than non-caregivers.

There are many terms used to describe wellbeing. Should you look the term up in the dictionary contentment, happiness, health, prosperity and wellness define wellbeing. Wellbeing is a state of balance or harmony.

The definition of wellbeing is actually very personal, and also changeable. Events, situations and circumstances that occur in one’s life upset the balance and produce stress. Not everyone responds to life events with the same thoughts, feelings and reactions. When we perceive life events to be stressful, or we exceed our stress threshold, it is not uncommon to experience anxiety.

If we think of being in balance as “being present with oneself,” when anxiety tips that balance it can result in feeling “ahead of oneself” worrying about what is to come, or “behind oneself,” worrying about what has occurred.

Finding ways to manage responses to stress is critical to wellbeing and maintaining one’s personal balance. Developing your own foundation for wellbeing can help you not only to find and promote your own balance, but it can help you to support wellbeing in the face of ongoing or increasing challenges that may be presented to you in your demanding role as caregiver.

Most of the research on the health of caregivers has focused on psychological wellbeing. Depression is the most heavily researched area in caregiver health. One study revealed that anxiety was present in 17.5 percent of caregivers, compared with 10.9 percent of subjects in a matched control group.

An increased incidence of anxiety correlates with research that has documented a higher amount of psychotropic drug use among caregivers.

Understandably, caregivers are often so concerned with care for their relative’s needs, that they lose sight of their own wellbeing. Ignoring the signs of stress on the body can be unhealthy and dangerous.

Fortunately, there are many resources available to assist caregivers. One tool offered by the Alzheimer’s Association, (alz.org/stresscheck/overview.asp?type=homepage) is a self assessment quiz to evaluate your own stress level and risk factors.

The best way to take care of others is to take care of yourself.

Micha Shalev MHA is the owner of Dodge Park Rest Home at 101 Randolph Road in Worcester. He can be reached at 508-853-8180 or by e-mail at [email protected]. View more information online at www.dodgepark.com. Archives of articles from previous issues can be read at www.fiftyplusadvocate.com.