A caregiver is someone who gives basic care to a person who has a chronic medical condition. A chronic condition is an illness that lasts for a long time or doesn’t go away. Some examples are cancer, effects of stroke, multiple sclerosis, arthritis, diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, and other forms of dementia. A caregiver helps with preparing and eating food, taking medicine, bathing, and dressing. A caregiver is often a family member.
Path to improved health
Being a caregiver can take a physical and emotional toll. But there are things that can help. Make wellness a priority. You may feel like you have to do it all. You must care for yourself too. This keeps you healthy so you can help others. Things you can do include:
- Eat healthy. Don’t rush through the day with fast food and packaged food. Cook healthy meals for you and your loved one to share. If you don’t have time to cook for yourself, keep healthy snacks around. This includes nuts, peanut butter, whole grains, fresh fruits, and snackable vegetables.
- Get plenty of sleep. If you aren’t sleeping well, take naps when you can. This might be something you can do when your loved one is napping. If your loved one doesn’t sleep or wanders (common in people who have dementia), read Caring for a Relative Who Has Dementia. Avoid using caffeine or energy drinks to combat being tired. Rest is the best way to recharge.
- Exercise regularly. Aim for 30 to 60 minutes 4 to 6 times per week. This will give you energy, reduce stress, and improve your mood. Include your loved one if they are able. Look for a substitute caregiver to free you up for exercise.
- Manage stress. Stress can lead to physical illness. For tips on managing stress, read Caregiver Stress.
- Avoid alcohol, tobacco, and drugs. These substances may seem to offer relief. But it is short-lived. They are harmful to your health if you use them regularly and to excess. If you have trouble eliminating these things from your life, talk to your doctor.
- Seek treatment. If you are having emotional difficulties, talk to your doctor, a counselor, a clergy person, or another person trained to help.
- Get regular checkups. Even if you don’t feel sick, it’s important to see your doctor regularly. This will include health tests and screenings, vaccinations, and health advice appropriate for your age, sex, and medical and family history. This helps prevent disease and catch any medical conditions you do have early.
- Take breaks from caregiving. Recognize your limits. Ask others to help regularly or for a period of time. This includes family members, friends, temporary care workers, and church members. Consider other resources, such as in-home health care, adult day service, respite care, meal delivery, transportation services, and hospice or palliative care.
Things to consider
Being a caregiver can put you at risk for health problems. This is because you tend to neglect your own health. And some tasks are difficult. This includes lifting or bathing your loved one. It can also cause financial stress. You may avoid going to the doctor so you don’t have to pay for visits or treatments. Or you may have to cut back or leave your job. These things can affect your emotional, mental, and physical health.
Studies show that caregivers have an increased risk for the following health problems:
- Alcohol, tobacco, and drug abuse
- Anxiety disorders
- Heart disease, high blood pressure, high cholesterol
- Pain (muscles, joints, headaches)
Questions to ask your doctor
- When should I consider long-term care for my loved one?
- What should I do if I’m tired all the time?
- Where can I go to get help caring for my loved one?
- Where can I go to get help for myself?
- Does caregiving shorten your lifespan?
- What dietary items can you suggest that are quick and easy?
Copyright © American Academy of Family Physicians
This information provides a general overview and may not apply to everyone. Talk to your family doctor to find out if this information applies to you and to get more information on this subject.