Caregivers: A Population with Unique Needs

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Mental-MinuteHave you ever had to care for a loved one in need when you felt like you weren’t prepared or equipped for the job? Maybe Mom or Dad are elderly and became sick, and you didn’t want them to live in a facility? Maybe you have an adult child that has schizophrenia and at times has symptoms that make it difficult to maintain independent living, so you provide financial support and daily care? Does this leave you feeling alone? Tired? Sick? Overwhelmed and without many resources?

An often overlooked population in need is those of caregivers. Caregivers are people that provide some type of unpaid assistance for those that need support, such as the elderly or people with disabilities. Often this is someone caring for a parent, spouse or other loved one in lieu of home health care or nursing home care. This is a unique population within the mental health field as well. Some people with severe and persistent mental illness (SPMI) have family that helps them manage Activities of Daily Living (ADLs), such as cleaning, bathing and eating.  Caregivers may also assist financially. Sometimes those with SPMI may find themselves on the other side as a caregiver themselves. This is an important topic to explore, as caregivers are at risk for increased health risks, both mentally and physically.

The Family Caregiver Alliance estimates that 44 million Americans age 18 and older provide care to a family member or loved one. This puts 44 million people at risk for an increase in mental and physical issues. Studies show that caregivers have higher levels of depression compared to those that are not caregivers and that 40 to 70 percent of caregivers have clinically significant symptoms of depression. As many as one fourth to one half of caregivers may meet the diagnostic criteria for Major Depression. Caregivers also have higher levels of stress, anxiety, substance abuse or dependence than non-care giving peers.

In regards to physical health, poorer health outcomes are seen among caregivers. Approximately one in ten caregivers report that their duties have caused their health to decline. Lower levels of self-care are reported among caregivers. Some report engaging in less preventative health measures like eating healthy and exercising, as well as not going to doctors appointments, filling necessary prescriptions for themselves or meeting their own medical needs. Caregivers may report chronic health conditions (heart disease, cancer, diabetes and arthritis) at nearly twice the rate of noncaregivers. Studies have also linked caregiving with decreased immune response which leads to frequent infections and increased risk of cancers and slower wound healing. While this is not an all inclusive list, this illustrates some of the physical ailments that caregiving can put a person at risk for developing.

If you are a caregiver reading this, you may think, “What can I do to take care of myself while I care for my loved one?” Fortunately there are resources available to caregivers. In regards to resources within the Tallahassee community, the following resources are available:

–          The City of Tallahassee Senior Center offers a Senior Resource Information and Referral Assistance for seniors, caregivers and volunteers working with seniors. You can contact them at (850) 891-4043 Monday through Friday 11 AM to 3 PM.

–          The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) offers resources to caregivers. NAMI Florida offers Family to Family Groups that are educational classes that are offered to families as well as support groups. Visit namiflorida.org or contact (850) 671-4445.

–          Visit caregiver.org for more information regarding education, outreach and assistance to caregivers

References

“Caregiver Health, A Population at Risk.” Family Caregiver Alliance. 10 March 2006. Web. 20 April 2014.

 

                                                                                    Emily Grob, MSW

                                                                                  FACT Program

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