Derailed By Stress - Caregivers

Caring for an Aging Population (Africa Studio/
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The Be Well team launches a new series called “Derailed by Stress” which examines the toll stress is taking on our lives and health in the U.S.

Part one of the series takes a closer look at one of the most common sources of stress on Northeast Ohio families — caring for a loved one with a debilitating disease.

According to a new national report, Families Caring for an Aging America, nearly 18 million people are caring for a family member age 65 and over and that number is expected to mushroom as baby boomers grow older.

Betty Halliburton, of Lorain, is among the millions of daughters caring for an aging parent in the U.S. She and her mother Jean have been roommates for years, but five years ago her mother was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer. Now her 55-year-old daughter has gone from roommate to primary caregiver.

According the report from the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine, women in their mid-to-late 50’s are doing the heavy lifting in this country — providing most of the home care for sick loved ones.

Halliburton said her family and co-workers are clueless about the amount of stress she is under as she juggles a fulltime job, while watching her mother endure difficult cancer treatments.

“I’ve got medicine to pick up. Did you go by and pick that up for me? Did you remember to mail my letter? Did you do this, and now that she knows how to text message she is a pistol,” she said.

Halliburton’s health has suffered because of the stress. She lets her healthy eating habits slip and gained a great deal of weight – which is a major issue in her family where there is a history of heart disease in women.

About 45 miles away in Hudson another Northeast Ohio family is struggling with this same issue.

Marcia Robson’s 70-year-old husband, John, was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease about eight years ago.  She has provided his care at home since then but about two months ago it became too much. Stressed out and exhausted from lack of sleep she made the difficult decision to move him to a nearby assisted living facility.

“It’s like taking care of a child — a grown up child. It’s a 24-hour job. it’s very, very stressful,” she said.

According to the national report, some people are spending more than 250 hours a month providing care — almost the equivalent of two full-time jobs.

The researchers also found many caregivers are suffering from health problems including elevated stress hormones, said Dr. Richard Schulz, co-author of the report.

“We found lots of evidence of emotional distress, anxiety and social isolation among caregivers,” Dr. Schulz said.

“So caregiving takes its toll on the provider and this is particularly true for caregivers who are taking care of people with cognitive impairments like dementia.”

Both Halliburton and Robson took action to get their stress under control. Halliburton is working on getting her weight down and Robson is getting much needed sleep. Both said it’s important for caregivers to take time out for themselves — no matter what.

The national report is calling on the medical community to be more proactive and develop more support programs for those doing this important task of caring for their loved ones, Dr. Schulz said.

  • For a list of resources for caregivers support click here.




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