Caregiving can cause emotional, physical stress

Posted 2/1/23

REGION — For the hundreds of thousands of unpaid caregivers in New York and Pennsylvania, the stress of caring for someone with dementia through the winter holidays might be over, but another …

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Caregiving can cause emotional, physical stress


REGION — For the hundreds of thousands of unpaid caregivers in New York and Pennsylvania, the stress of caring for someone with dementia through the winter holidays might be over, but another type of stress has just begun—that of getting back into a normal routine.

Caregiving often means assisting with one or more activities of daily living, including bathing and dressing, as well as paying bills, shopping and using transportation. Caregivers also provide emotional support to people with Alzheimer’s disease, as well as communicating and coordinating care with other family members and health care providers, ensuring safety at home and elsewhere and managing health conditions.

A 2022 report from the Alzheimer’s Association found that 83 percent of the care provided to older adults in the United States comes from family members, friends or other unpaid caregivers. Nearly half of all caregivers (48 percent) who provide help to older adults do so for someone with Alzheimer’s or another dementia, and more than 11 million Americans provide unpaid care for people with Alzheimer’s or other dementias.

Caregivers are at risk for depression and can develop other stress-related health conditions. The Alzheimer’s Association also found that 17 percent of caregivers were in poor physical health, while more than 52 percent had chronic health conditions. More than 28 percent suffered from depression.

“Caregiving can take a serious toll on the primary caregiver, both physically and emotionally,” said Meg Boyce, vice president of programs and services for the Alzheimer’s Association Hudson Valley Chapter. “Self-care is critically important, and our organization provides several ways to help caregivers do that—whether it’s getting a care consultation with one of our staff social workers to learn about available resources; taking advantage of our Time Away respite grants, so they can have some time to themselves; or participating in one of our virtual or in-person support groups.”

If a caregiver experiences one or more of the following symptoms, they might be experiencing caregiver stress:

  • They regularly feel like they have to do it all themselves and that they should be doing more;
  • They withdraw from family, friends and activities that they used to enjoy;
  • They worry about the safety of the person they care for;
  • They regularly feel anxious about money and healthcare-related decisions;
  • They deny the impact of the disease and its effects on their family;
  • They feel grief or sadness that their relationship with the person isn’t what it used to be;
  • They feel frustrated or angry when the person continually repeats things and doesn’t seem to listen; and
  • They experience health problems that take a physical or mental toll.

In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that more than half (53 percent) of caregivers indicate that a decline in their health compromises their ability to provide care. And caregivers and their families often experience economic decline through lost wages and an increase in medical expenses.

The CDC also found that caring for an older adult can be associated with elevated levels of depression and anxiety, higher use of psychoactive medications, worse self-reported physical health, compromised immune function and increase risk of early death.

In 2020, at the height of the COVID pandemic, the American Psychological Association found that two-thirds of unpaid caregivers for older adults reported at least one adverse mental or behavioral health symptom in the 30 days prior to taking a June survey, while roughly one-third of unpaid caregivers reported mental or behavioral health problems such as anxiety, depression or substance use in the 30 days prior to the survey.

Identifying this stress is the first important step so that caregivers can work toward managing their own health. They can consult their doctor and takeng advantage of Alzheimer’s Association resources. Resources include confidential information and support, in-depth care consultations, caregiver support groups, education programs specifically for caregivers, helpful online tools and referrals to local resources.

dementia, caregiving, Alzheimer's Association


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