[By Joanne Reynolds] Suzanne Mintz, co-founder and president of the NFCA says 80 percent of long-term care in this country is done by family and friends. She puts it pretty bluntly: “We are the care system.”
No one knows for sure how many family (otherwise known as unpaid) caregivers there are in the U. S., but the educated guesses from organizations such as AARP, the National Family Caregivers Association (NFCA) or the U. S. Administration on Aging, range from 36 million to 60 million.
The need for an enormous army of unpaid caregivers is going to dramatically in the coming years as the Baby Boomer generation ages. Some diseases, such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s have risk factors that are dependant on age. The older the person, the more likely he or she is to suffer from one of these chronic and debilitating conditions that require care.
Aside from the increase in the number of unpaid caregivers, there’s another serious concern, which is the health of the caregivers themselves.
According to a study issued in 2007 from the Division of Health Psychology at Ohio State University, Columbus, caregivers appear more likely than non-caregivers to get infectious diseases and they are slower to heal from wounds.
Caregivers show long-term, if not permanent changes in blood chemistry as a result of the stress of caregiving. Elevated levels of cortisol and epinephrine found in caregivers have been linked to heart attack stroke, and possibly even the growth of tumors.
So we have a population of about 75 million Baby Boomers, heading into the time in life when they will need care, and we know that caregiving causes health problems in caregivers. Now what?
If you are a caregiver, it means that you must learn to take care of yourself. Reframe your priorities so that you regard self-care as being equally important as the care of your loved one. Learn to ask yourself the question, “If I become ill, who will care for my loved one?”
Here are a few tips for engaging is self-care:
• Get enough sleep. You need at least seven to 10 hours a day.
• Eat right. Reduce drastically foods high in fats, sugar, white carbs, liquor and caffeine. Drink lots of water and eat fresh fruits, vegetables and whole grains.
• Exercise daily. A good minimum for stress reduction-- as opposed to overall fitness-- is 30 minutes every day.
• Release your pent up feelings in a safe place—join a caregiver (or other) support group, keep a journal, or participate in a caregiver on-line chat group.
The fact that there are millions of caregivers means that you are not alone. I also firmly believe that God is strongly present to us when we’re caregiving. When you’re feeling isolated and lonely, keep these two thoughts in mind, then reach out to a friend or other family member for support. It’s one way to engage in good self-care.