Karen and her husband David had great plans for their retirement but three months short of his 60th birthday, he suffered a massive stroke. While he was able to regain some of his former cognition and physical abilities, David still remains confined to a wheelchair and needs assistance with all of his activities of daily living. He is also unable to speak clearly or write, and frequently, he cannot make his needs known.
Like over 25 million other individuals in the United States, Karen has become a caregiver. While she still loves her husband very much and wants to take care of him, caregiving has taken a toll on her physical and psychological well-being. She feels that her retirement dreams have vanished, and now she lives without plans, expectation or enthusiasm. Most days, she feels robotic, carrying out her daily tasks by rote without any emotion or passion.
Caregivers are at high risk for serious health problems including clinical depression. Because they are so consumed by someone else’s needs, they often neglect their own needs and health. Depression is one of the health issues that may be overlooked – it is often considered a normal response to having to take on the responsibility of caregiving, and it is not always perceived as a “real” health problem.
Past studies have found that caregivers are more prone to depression than their non-caregiving peers. Given the fact that their loved ones are disabled in some way, caregivers are at risk for depression to a much more significant degree than any subgroup within our population.
Depression manifests in a variety of different symptoms. At its onset, caregivers often have feelings of frustration, anxiety, resentment or anger, isolation and guilt. Left unchecked, these emotions will impact an individual’s ability to provide consistent and quality care as well as adversely affect the caregiver’s mental and physical health. Research has shown that depressed persons have a higher risk of heart attacks, and stress can decrease the immune system’s ability to fight infections.
The percentage of caregivers who do get depressed varies, depending on how a study defines depression. According to the National Family Caregivers Association survey, about 50 percent of people who are doing intense caregiving are going to suffer from some degree of depression.
The number of caregivers who suffer from severe depression is significantly lower, only about six percent. But given the large population of people who are caregivers,” he says, “we’re talking about millions of people who are suffering from depression.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, a caregiver should seek out a professional healthcare worker if they find themselves experiencing five or more of the following symptoms:
· persistent feelings of sadness that last two weeks or more
· feeling sluggish or slowed down
· worrying excessively about financial and health problems
· frequent tearfulness
· experiencing feelings of worthlessness or helplessness
· gaining or losing weight unintentionally
· problems concentrating
· having headaches, gastrointestinal problems or other physical symptoms
· fidgeting and/or pacing
Although more men are assuming the role of caregiver, women between the ages of 35 to 64 make up the majority of caregivers. Women, in general, also have a higher degree of depression in the general population.
Combating depression can be difficult, but caregivers need to be proactive when it comes to their own health. Caregivers need to recognize that caregiving is a job and self-care is a necessity and not a luxury. They need to learn to communicate better with their health care providers.
Healthcare professionals also need to be more aware of the potential risk factors of being a caregiver. By finding out right away if their patient is in fact a caregiver, they will be able to provide better care and more comprehensive support services.
The information contained in or made available through This Site cannot replace or substitute for the services of trained professionals in the medical field. We do not recommend any treatment, drug, food or supplement. You should regularly consult a doctor in all matters relating to physical or mental health, particularly concerning any symptoms that may require diagnosis or medical attention.