As I have mentioned in my book, caregiving, like getting old, is not for sissies. It is a gig that gives you joy and mandates that you gather strength from whatever sources are available. Although at times it seems daunting, caregiving is not a permanent situation but a temporary assignment you assume, only if you choose to do so. Nobody can force someone to provide full-time care for a loved one.

Caregivers, due to the nature of their work, also experience challenges on the job. In taking care of patients, caregivers may experience chronic pain (due to musculoskeletal disorders), fatigue, sleep deprivation, depression, anxiety, mental stress, poor work-life balance, and financial issues, all of which could result in injuries, illnesses, time off work, drug or alcohol abuse, or worse, death.

Sometimes, the transition to caregiving is triggered by a major health event, such as a stroke, heart attack, or accident. In my case, my caregiving journey started after my mother broke her hip at the age of 93. In some families, it’s when the parent or both parents begin to experience memory lapse or lose their ability to think clearly with usual speed and clarity. Whatever the trigger, life stops for the individual who would become the primary caregiver; the focus of their energy shifts to caring for their loved ones.

Family caregivers are rarely trained to carry out the broad range of tasks they are asked to perform. As a result, one could end up, for example, with back pain because he or she has not been properly trained how to lift, move or transfer a patient from bed to chair or wheelchair or into a car. He or she could also find themselves in a combative situation with a patient because the caregiver has not learned the skills necessary to communicate with someone who has cognitive impairment, memory loss, or dementia.

Some caregivers have told stories of being healthy before they transition into being caregivers, only to develop chronic conditions that eventually may require surgery due to the relentless stress of caregiving. When asked, some caregivers report higher levels of insomnia, depression, anxiety, fatigue, and poor appetite than their non-caregivers counterparts.  An article on the Caring for the Ages reveals the following statistics:

  • Nearly one-third of dementia caregivers “frequently or occasionally” missed taking their own medication and nearly half did not keep their health care appointments.
  • 40% of Alzheimer’s caregivers reported smoking, and 25% reported the stress resulted in increased smoking.  34% percent of spousal Alzheimer’s caregivers said they used alcohol as a coping mechanism.
  • Of the caregivers who spend more than 21 hours a week helping their loved one with activities of daily living, 76% report low back pain and 43% report knee, shoulder, or wrist pain.

Initially, caregivers may be healthy and seldom notice how they have neglected their own health and well-being. Caregivers often do not seek medical attention when they co experience health issues because they are preoccupied with caregiving responsibilities.  This is when caregivers become the patient.

Despite these unsettling statistics, caregivers are said to live nine years longer on average than non-caregivers. A recent John Hopkins study of 3,500 family caregivers found that those who cared for a chronically ill loved one had an 18% survival advantage over non-caregivers.

Some of the common challenges of caregiving can take a toll on many aspects of the caregiver’s wellbeing. Caregivers may worry about their finances, mental and physical health or career.  The article of Six Useful Tips to Reduce Caregiver Anxiety provide caregivers with suggestions and information that might make their task at hand less difficult and overwhelming.  In the end, caregiving is rewarding and the caregiver emerges stronger and better equipped to deal with life’s challenges.

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