Tips for caregivers: don't forget your own health

Caregivers spend an average of 25 hours a week taking care of an ill family member's needs, with little to no time for themselves. But the loving act can be bad for their body and mind

At just 60, Kathy Beechem’s husband Pete was diagnosed with a brain tumor and given two years to live.

"Right then, in that split second, it just changed everything," said Beechem.

So she took on a new role, caregiver. More than seven million people like Beechem provide full-time care to their loved ones in the U.S. Research shows it can have serious health consequences. 40 to 70 % of family caregivers have significant symptoms of depression.

"To share with others what was going on ended up being a great source of support for us," said Beechem

Beechem is using her own experience to help others. She says educate yourself, but let the person you're caring for know you respect their wishes, too.

"I really never took the decision making away from Pete," Beechem said.

Be your loved one's advocate by keeping a medical journal, and don't be afraid to ask for help. Family caregivers often wait four to five years before reaching out.

When Alzheimer’s took control of former president Ronald Regan, his daughter, Patti Davis, took control of the situation.

"It starts to feel like this defines you," said Davis.

Results from a nearly three-decade-long program shows taking care of a loved one with Alzheimer’s could shorten your lifespan by as much as four to eight years. Davis started her own Alzheimer’s support group to help her deal with her dad's condition.

"I always say to people in this support group, 'You need travel buddies'," said Davis.

Kathy quit her job and traveled around the world with Pete and says the most important thing is to never lose hope.

"I think the fact that I had that belief and that hope made me a much better caregiver," said Beenchem.

The value of the services family caregivers provide for free is estimated to be more than $375 billion per year. That's almost twice as much as is actually spent on homecare and nursing home services combined.


CAREGIVERS: Chronic illness, progressive disease, and some disabilities can last for a significant portion of a person's life. In these circumstances often times an ill or disabled individual will need help caring for themselves and that is where caregivers come in. A caregiver is a person who takes care of other adults or children with special medical needs. While there are paid caregivers hired to help, a lot of the time caregivers are parents, children, or spouses of the ill or disabled individual.
WHAT CAREGIVERS DO: The amount or type of care given to individuals with special medical needs can differ greatly between different people. However, there are certain things that many caregivers will typically provide for the person they are caring for. These can include simple tasks such as:
- Grocery shopping and cooking
- Providing emotional support and company
- Cleaning
- Paying bills

For cases where more care is necessary the caregivers may also:
- Help with bathing, dressing, and using the toilet
- Administer medicine
- Help with eating

HEALTH HAZARDS: Caregivers provide help and support to whoever they are caring for, but there are certain health risks for the caregivers themselves. When entering the role of caregiver, some people are ill-prepared to handle the stress that comes along with it and do not have a support system. Feeling stress, anxiety, and depression are common for many people acting as caregivers for family members or friends. There are also some physical health hazards for caregivers with one third of caregivers continuing to care for others while suffering from poor health themselves. Exacerbating the problem even further is that some caregivers do not have health insurance because they have quit their jobs in order to take care of an ill family member.

HELP FOR CAREGIVERS: Providing care for a loved one doesn't have to mean your own health suffers. Finding support programs, creating a care plan with support services, and recognizing when your own health, mental or physical, is failing and seeking help can improve the situation for caregivers in need. (Source:

For More Information, Contact:
The National Alliance for Caregiving

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