COUNT YOURSELF FIRST
Finding the Key to Self-Help
People are starting to notice the toll caregiving exacts, particularly in cases where a spouse or other family member is involved. “When one spouse is ill, two need care,” says Donna McQuade of the Well Spouse Association. “But, too often, only one gets it. And that situation seems to be increasing.”
A recent study by the National Foundation for Cancer Research notes that some 44 million Americans provide unpaid care to a family member or friend. With 90 percent of cancer care being given on an outpatient basis, the responsibility and pressure are increasingly being placed on family caregivers. The NFCR recommends keeping a journal, talking with the patient about your feelings and utilizing support groups to reduce stress. McQuade agrees. “Nobody should try to do this alone,” she says. “It can break you down, physically and emotionally.”
Indeed, a study by the National Institutes of Health and the National Institute on Aging found that spouses, in particular, are impacted by a partner’s illness. “Diseases that are more disabling are more likely to result in disease and death in the caregiving spouse,” says Nicholas A. Christakis, MD, PhD, MPH, of Harvard Medical School. Diagnoses for dementia, stroke and hip fracture, for example, can increase a spouse’s mortality likelihood up to 22 percent.
McQuade advises caregivers to take care of their own needs. “See your doctors. Find time for you to keep up with your own interests. Most important, communicate with others. Join a support group, either in person or online, where you can speak honestly and privately. There’s great relief in knowing you’re not alone.”