Why do we keep talking about stress?
If you’re caring for an older adult, you’ve probably heard a lot about reducing, managing, or being aware of stress. In fact, you’re probably sick of hearing about it. But there’s a good reason why everyone, including us, thinks caregiver stress is such a big deal.
Serious consequences to not reducing stress
We don’t like being negative and we are absolutely not criticizing you for being stressed out. But we need to be brutally honest. We push so hard on caregivers like you to reduce stress and take breaks because chronic severe stress can actually cause death.
Stress causes serious health conditions and increased risk of death
Caregivers are at risk because they put caregiving duties first and tend to ignore symptoms of stress-related problems. It’s wonderful to care so deeply for your senior, but putting your own health last leads to severe chronic stress, serious health conditions, and poor lifestyle choices.
Serious chronic health issues
- 45% of caregivers report having serious chronic conditions including heart attack, heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and arthritis. That’s almost double the rate for non-caregivers.
- 60% of caregivers reported fair or poor health status, one or more chronic conditions, or a disability. Again, almost double the rate for non-caregivers.
- Women who spend 9+ hours/week caring for a spouse have double the heart disease risk.
Accelerated aging and higher death rate
- Chronic stress accelerates aging by actually shortening cell life. This leads to weaker muscles, skin wrinkles, and even organ failure. Severe stress can take as many as 10 years off a person’s life.
- In a study published in Journal of the American Medical Association, 33% of stressed caregivers with a severe chronic disease died within 4 years.
- Older adults (aged 66 – 96) caring for a spouse have a 63% higher risk of death than non-caregivers of the same age.
Prevent stress from harming your health
Of course you don’t want to have terrible health problems and you’re certainly not stressed because you want to be. So, what can you do to improve the situation?
Dramatic changes aren’t necessary. The answer isn’t to abandon your older adult and run away to Hawaii (though that does sound nice…). What will make a positive difference is changing how you talk to yourself, paying attention to your own needs and getting help when you need it.
Work on making your own health a higher priority, take short breaks, do little things to care for yourself, and use simple tips and tricks to manage stress. These small changes could literally save your life.