Many Caregivers Ignore Their Own Health

A survey conducted by the AP – NORC Center for Public Affairs documented what many of us already know.  When we are caring for an ill spouse or an aging loved one,  we often neglect our own health.

About 40% of Americans have spent time helping to care for an older relative or a friend, but for at least a quarter of those helpers, or 10% of all Americans, the time spent as caregivers is the equivalent to a full-time job. And at least 40% of these caregivers have a health problem, physical disability or mental health condition of their own.

Even healthy caregivers can begin to experience the physical signs of caregiver burnout.  The effects of poor sleep, the physical strain of providing hands on support and the inability to take a break are exacerbated when the caregiver skips her own doctor’s appointment or forgets to fill a prescription because of the demands of caregiving.

The AP-NORC Poll reported that, while the majority of caregivers accompany the person they are caring for into their doctor’s appointments, few of those doctors address the health needs of the caregiver.  Some doctors do provide information about caregiver support services, but many are not aware of the organizations and resources that are available.  And Medicare does not provide a way for a doctor to bill for helping caregivers during someone else’s appointment.

The poll reports that many caregivers have found healthy coping mechanisms such as prayer, meditation or support groups, while others have turned to unhealthy eating or increased alcohol use.

We need to do better to keep our caregivers from becoming patients themselves.  And if the caregiver burns out, the first patient has no one.



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