A family caregiver is a partner, family member, relative, or close friend who supports an older person with a chronic health condition. The primary purpose of supporting an elderly family member is to provide companionship, compassion, and assistance with activities of daily living (ADLs).
A family caregiver does not charge money or receive payments for assisting an older adult. According to the National Alliance for Caregiving, over 53 million people in the United States provide unpaid care and support for family members, relatives, and friends.
Aging Care highlights that family caregivers work an average of 23.7 hours weekly. Some caregivers who live with the aging/elderly individual spend an average of 37.4 hours per week providing care and support.
So, this takes a massive toll on the caregiver’s physical and mental wellbeing, leading to chronic stress and other conditions. Today’s article will discuss the physical and mental health effects of family caregiving. Read on!
Chronic Stress – The Root Cause of Problems
Short-term stress benefits people because it motivates them to analyze the situation, identify the issue, and develop a plan to overcome it. However, chronic stress can deteriorate your mental health and cognitive abilities and make you feel nervous, tense, irritable, and restless.
Chronic stress is the root cause of physical and mental health conditions, disrupting your organ systems, tissues, and cellular functions and reducing your overall quality of life. Bear in mind that chronic stress is a common problem for family caregivers and can:
- Weaken your immune system, making you vulnerable to external pathogens, allergens, and microbes
- Cause depression, bipolar disorder, panic attacks, and anxiety
- Increase heart rate, cholesterol levels, and blood pressure levels
- Elevate the risk of heart disease and stroke
- Cuse metabolic problems, including:
- Eating disorders
- Insulin resistance
- Metabolic syndrome
- Lead to digestive problems, including:
- Stomach ulcers
- Irregular bowel movements
- Deteriorate your musculoskeletal system, causing
- Severe spinal discomfort and pain
- Headaches, neck/jaw pain, and migraines
- Disrupted circadian rhythm, causing:
- Sleep deprivation
- Stressful dreams
- Chronic fatigue
- Cause skin conditions, including:
- Acne breakouts
- Irritation, rashes, redness
- Bacterial/fungal infections
- Eczema or psoriasis
- Imbalanced sebum oil levels
- Vulnerable epidermis
Depression and Anxiety
A study published on NCBI highlights that family caregivers experience higher depression and anxiety symptoms than non-caregivers. Working for more hours to support your elderly family member causes muscle and neuronal fatigue.
It causes your brain to function slowly and disrupts the balance of neurotransmitters/chemicals, such as dopamine, serotonin, endorphins, and melatonin. As a result, you feel depression and anxiety.
Another study published by the National Institute of Health (NIH) highlights that family caregivers who care for people with dementia are 40% more prone to depression and anxiety.
A study published in the National Library of Medicine shows that family caregivers are more likely to suffer from cardiovascular conditions because physical stress and mental fatigue affect blood pressure and cholesterol levels and damage the blood vessels, leading to heart disease and stroke.
A 2003 research study found that women caregivers are more prone to cardiovascular conditions because they take care of the ailing/disabled spouse, look after their children, carry out family errands/chores, and experience burnout at the workplace.
Lack of proper sleep, increasing blood pressure levels, and hormonal stress disrupts a woman’s metabolic and homeostatic system, elevating the risk of diabetes, renal conditions, liver problems, and heart disease.
A 2016 systematic review study states that family caregivers are more likely to experience sleep deprivation and insomnia. Researchers highlight that 70% of caregivers caring for a patient with dementia suffer from sleep problems. About 40% of caregivers caring for a cancer patient experience chronic sleep deprivation.
Not getting plenty of sleep (about 7-8 hours at night) affects your mental health, reduces cognitive functions, negatively impacts memory, and causes behavioral changes.
Instead of doing the job yourself, you can hire a professional caregiving service with experienced, well-trained, and skilled staff. Professional homecare services have years of experience and extensive knowledge in providing optimal care to your elderly family member without burnout or stress. Contact us today for more information!