Can caregiving make you sick?
Christine Rybicki is one of more than 65 million Americans caring for an ailing loved one. Even though she says she wouldn’t have it any other way, the 54-year-old does admit that caring for her 88-year-old mom, Esther, has taken a big toll on her life.
Esther, who suffers from a number of chronic health conditions, including debilitating osteoporosis, lives with Christine in her one-bedroom condo.
“It’s certainly a new normal for me and one that can be really challenging and exhausting,” says Rybicki. “But I don’t mind,” she adds. “She’s my mom.”
Rybicki may not mind, but the latest government health report card suggests she might want to keep an eye on her own health. In 2010, many men and women Rybicki’s age reported they either delayed or did not receive the medical care they needed. And 22 percent said they didn’t even get the prescriptions they required. Participants in the study pointed to their busy lives interfering with them taking time to take better care of themselves.
Dr. Rishi Sikka, emergency medicine physician at Advocate Health Care says signs of caregiver stress can include fatigue, irritability, lack of sleep and weight loss. And too much stress, especially over a long period of time, can be bad for your health.
“Many caregivers fall into the trap of believing they can do everything—or that they have to do everything—themselves and we’ve seen a number of people come into our emergency departments as a result of stress and fatigue,” said Sikka.
Christine says often has to leave work early to get her mom to doctor appointments, or take time off to ensure she has what she needs. “It certainly requires a lot of adjustments at times,” she said. “I just do the best I can.”
Caregiving can also be very expensive, which can lead to additional stress. Christine says while Medicare covers most of her mother’s medical expenses, “there are still a lot of extras that come with having her as my roommate,” she said. Extras like paying to fill up her tank more for multiple trips to doctors’ offices and other personal items.
Sikka shares these healthy tips for stressed out caregivers:
- Accept help. List ways that others can help you. For instance someone else might offer to pick up groceries or even to cook for you.
- Set priorities. Understand that no one is a “perfect” caregiver. Postpone chores if you need to and eat occasional leftovers to save time.
- Get connected. Seek out organizations that offer support for caregivers and connect you with others helping their loved ones.
- Get social. Stay emotionally connected with family and friends. Set aside time each week for socializing, even if it’s just a walk with a friend.
Sikka says you should definitely make your personal health a priority. “Find time to be physically active on most days of the week and see your doctor for regular check-ups,” he said. “Remember, you’re no good to your loved one if your own health is compromised.”
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health enews staff is a group of experienced writers from our Advocate Aurora Health sites, which also includes freelance or intern writers.