The Stress of Caregiving

Physician's Money Digest, August31 2004, Volume 11, Issue 16

As the nation mourned the death ofPresident Ronald Reagan in June,its heart also went out to his wife Nancy,who had endured a decade of caring forher husband, even as Alzheimer's diseaserobbed him of shared memories of along and loving life. Perhaps only peoplewho are caregivers themselves can possiblyimagine how stressful those 10 yearswere. Caregivers face a daily routine thatplaces an enormous burden on theirshoulders—one that research has showncan be harmful to their own health.

Although common sense tells a caregiverto take a break now and then, amix of love, guilt, and other emotionsoften stands in the way. Many familycounselors advise caregivers to turn tofamily and friends for help. They suggesthaving a list of chores that others can do(eg, making the beds, cooking meals, sittingwith the patient for an hour ortwo). Further advice includes joining asupport group where a caregiver canreceive information and share experiences.Finding chances to take some timeoff can also lighten the load. Little thingssuch as napping while the patient napsor taking some quiet time while thepatient watches TV, can recharge a caregiver'sbatteries for a time.

Some adult daycare centers can takethe patient for a day at a time and givethe caregiver a much needed break.Respite care, whether it's from professionalswho come to the home or in theform of a short-term stay at a nursinghome that provides such services, canalso help ease the stress of caregiving.The following are good Web sites forcaregivers to visit: US Department ofHealth and Human Services Eldercare Locator(www.eldercare.gov), Alzheimer'sAssociation (www.alz.org), AARP (www.aarp.org/life/caregiving), and FamilyCaregiver Alliance (www.caregiver.org).