Researchers know a lot about the effects of caregiving on health and well-being. The combination of loss, prolonged stress, the physical demands of caregiving, and the biological vulnerabilities that come with age place you at risk for significant health problems as well as an earlier death.
Older caregivers are not the only ones who put their health and well-being at risk. If you are a baby boomer who has assumed a caregiver role for your parents while simultaneously juggling work and raising adolescent children, you too face an increased risk of depression, chronic illness, and a possible decline in quality of life.
But despite these risks, family caregivers of Northwest Georgia Oncology Centers‘ cancer patients of any age are less likely than non-caregivers to practice preventive healthcare and self-care behavior. Regardless of age, gender, and ethnicity, caregivers report problems attending to their own health and well-being while managing caregiving responsibilities.
- Sleep deprivation
- Poor eating habits
- Failure to exercise
- Failure to stay in bed when ill
- Postponement of or failure to make medical appointments
Caregiving can be an emotional roller coaster. On the one hand, caring for your family member demonstrates love and commitment and can be a very rewarding personal experience. On the other hand, exhaustion, worry, inadequate resources, and continuous care demands are enormously stressful. Studies show that an estimated 46 to 59 percent of caregivers are clinically depressed.
You cannot stop the impact of a chronic or progressive illness or a debilitating injury on someone for whom you care. But there is a great deal that you can do to take responsibility for your personal well-being and have your own needs met. If you are struggling with the pressures and stress of caregiving, please talk to your NGOC cancer team to help with resources and support.
Lamentations of Love from a NGOC Caregiver – Lee Ann Sanderson
I was a good wife and an expert mother of two. Over the years I became quite proficient on how to nurture a soul, soothe frazzled nerves and make things right with soft words and a hug. I was very comfortable rendering vigilant round-the-clock care to the sick. Had I not sat up all night, many a night, with kids when they went through the many childhood illnesses? Wasn’t I a dependable, caring adult?
All of that on-the-job training was put to the test in April 2010 when my husband, Rick, was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. I learned quickly that everything I thought I knew about giving care to a loved one could be tossed out the window. From the get-go, I was confused about medications and appointments. I prayed for strength. He had to eat and stay hydrated, but I couldn’t make him eat or drink. I cooked anything he requested, only for it to be refused. Cooking odors made him sick. I would make a midnight run to the store for a specific ice cream he would ask for and he wouldn’t even taste it. Food didn’t taste like he remembered. That made him mad and confused. I told him that his meds and chemo had changed the way food tasted.
I prayed for compassion. Between runs to the ER at night and appointments during the day, we both grew more and more frustrated. He wanted me in the room with him at all times, but only he would sleep. Total exhaustion set in – an exhaustion like I’d never known before. Rick would get mad and say hateful things. He was mad as all get out at cancer, but I was the face in front of him so he took it out on me. I prayed for understanding. He was scared. I was scared. The occasional good day between the bad days, became all bad days. I prayed for mercy. Mercy was granted when in November 2010 he quietly passed. Rick and I had been married 31 years.
My heart goes out to all caregivers. It taxes all your energy to the point that you question your motives, actions, and decision making. It is something you pray you never have to do again, ever. But you would do it again – anything for your loved one.