Caregiving Can Be Hard on Health - Duh.
I just saw a post on the blog, Alzheimer's Reading Room, which I link to here: http://www.alzheimersreadingroom.com/2013/10/do-family-caregivers-experience-greater.html#more
The post quoted a study that refuted the belief that giving care to an ill family member can adversely affect the health of the caregiver, and possibly shorten their life expectancy. The study found that caregiving actually increased life expectancy and led to better self esteem among the caregivers studied. This goes against other studies I've seen as well as traditionally-held, and anecdotal reports from caregivers I've spoken to. There are also statistics that show many caregivers dying before their caretaker! What are we to believe?
Many of the caregivers I talk to whose duties are over due to the death of the caretaker reported that they fell ill with sometimes serious illnesses almost immediately after the death. I also hear stories from current caregivers about serious injuries, autoimmune diseases, and worsening of chronic conditions like diabetes and heart disease. Problems that they aren't always able to address due to the time and/or money constraints of being a caregiver. These stories seem to refute this study.
The whole time I lived with Dad, I worried about my own chronic illness and whether it would become worse while I was his caregiver. My duties were not too onerous owing to the fact that he was still fairly lucid at the time, but the extra housekeeping, cooking, shopping, walking, and care was a bit of a strain. I was also worried that the emotional repercussions of caring for him after he had neglected to care for me would cause me to become ill. I definitely navigated a difficult balance between my duties and desires to help him, with the necessity to maintain my own health. I was lucky enough to be helped along the way by my therapist and my doctors. The fact that I was able to find two excellent facilities to care for him as his illness worsened helped as well; there is no way I would have been able to withstand the physical and emotional exertions of caring for him now that the disease has worsened and he needs much more care.
I urge every caregiver I speak to to take care of their own health, to look after their own well-being, and not to wear themselves down. I also know that everyone I say this to may, or may not, be able to follow my advice because their duties are just too much. While I'm glad that studies of caregivers are being done at all - lord knows we need all the help and information and attention we can get - I also know that they don't always tell the whole story. Statistics have a funny way of supporting almost every viewpoint depending on how they are interpreted. Studies like this need to be weighed against the very real responsibilities and problems of caregivers so that the whole story can be told; and we need to continue to make sure that caregivers are getting all the support they need.