Compassionate Caregiving: Women’s health and stress in caregivers


Laura Nissen


Laura Nissen

As we get older and wiser, it seems that health is one of our biggest treasures. Many seniors tell me that they wish they would have paid closer attention to healthy habits throughout their lifetime. The good news is that it is never too late to start.

The classic scenario presents itself far too often: A family caregiver is so devoted to their loved one that they neglect their health. They have good intentions, but the responsibilities of caregiving get the attention first, while their care comes last. Then, the caregiver’s ability to care for their loved one is compromised because they do not feel well.

Who experiences caregiver stress?

Historically, women have performed most of the family caregiving. This is why it is such an important topic in women’s health. In addition to caregiving, nearly three in five family caregivers also hold careers outside of the home.

What are the symptoms of caregiver stress?

Common signs that you could have caregiver stress include:

• Gaining or losing a significant amount of weight.

• Feeling overwhelmed and paralyzed of action.

• Sleeping too much or too little.

• Feeling tired a large portion of the day.

• Becoming easily angered or upset.

• Feeling worried or sad often.

• Feeling alone and isolated from others.

• Losing interest in things that you would otherwise enjoy.

• Experiencing headaches and body aches.

How do these symptoms affect a caregiver’s health?

Symptoms left unattended can progress into serious health problems, including depression and anxiety, a weakened immune system and obesity. Ignoring the symptoms also can place you at higher risk of chronic disease, such as heart problems, cancer, diabetes or arthritis. Caregiver stress can compound along with daily life to increase stress levels to dangerous levels.

What can you do to proactively reduce caregiver stress?

• Be physically active most days of the week.

• Educate yourself on your loved one’s condition, and learn what to expect.

• Take time out to do things that bring joy.

• Make certain that you are going to the doctor on a regular basis.

• Ask for and accept help from others. Find caregiving resources in your community to help shoulder the responsibilities.

• Get organized.

• Join a support group for caregivers.

• Trust that you are doing your very best.

• Consider respite time away from caregiving.

As we start a new year, we can start new habits to take better care of ourselves. Your health and the health of the person you are caring for depend up on those good habits of extreme care.

Remember: “You can’t pour from an empty cup. Take care of yourself first.”

Laura Nissen is the director of assisted living at Grand Meadows, a Luther Manor Community.

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