Caregivers Should Practice Self-Care for Sound Mental Health


Caregivers Should Practice Self-Care for Sound Mental Health

Those caring for an elderly family member with a chronic disease or dementia can put in long days. With more people living into old age, these caregivers are not alone. According to the National Alliance for Caregiving, an estimated 44 million Americans age 18 and older provide unpaid assistance and support to older people and adults with disabilities who live in the community.

Caregivers perform an important role in care delivery. The value of their labor is estimated at $306 billion annually, nearly double the combined costs of home health care ($43 billion) and nursing home care ($115 billion).

While they perform a vital service, caregivers may find they provide care with little or no support. Caregivers can feel the effects of the long days and selfless labor. As a result, caregivers can feel depleted both physically and emotionally.  

According to the Family Caregiver Alliance: “A substantial body of research shows that family members who provide care to individuals with chronic or disabling conditions are themselves at risk. Emotional, mental, and physical health problems arise from complex caregiving situations and the strains of caring for frail or disabled relatives.”

And the burden is increasing as the population ages, more people live into advanced old age needing care, costs and availability of nursing home care grow out of reach for depleted family savings. Medical advances, shorter hospital stays, limited discharge planning and expansion of home care technology also have placed increased costs as well as increased care responsibilities on families.

Caregiver Mental Health

Caregivers show higher levels of depression and mental health problems, compared to their peers. Estimates show 40% to 70% of caregivers have symptoms of depression, with one quarter to one half of these meeting the diagnostic criteria for major depression.

As expected, the caregiver burden, and toll on mental health, increases as the the care recipient’s functional status declines. The greatest incidence of depression occurs for caregivers taking care of individuals with dementia. Studies show that 30 to 40% of dementia caregivers suffer from depression and emotional stress.

Caregivers overall feel a high level of stress. They also describe feeling frustrated, angry, drained, guilty or helpless as a result of providing care. Some 16% of caregivers feel emotionally strained and 26% say taking care of the care recipient is hard on them emotionally. Related to this, caregivers often feel a loss of identity, lower levels of self-esteem and constant worry.

Impact on Physical Health

Caregivers can also feel an impact on their physical health as they provide increased services over time.  About one in ten (11%) caregivers report that caregiving has adversely impacted their health.

Caregivers have increased rates of physical ailments, such as headaches and bodily pain, and often miss important doctor appointments and preventive exams. Caregivers can neglect self-care at the expense of their own health. Long-term effects include higher rates of heart disease (from stress) and chronic conditions such as diabetes and high blood pressure.

Mental health and Self-Care Tips for Caregivers

  1. Take care of yourself: Make sure you are taking time for yourself to relax, exercise, and take care of your own physical and mental health.
  2. Seek help: It is important to be aware of your own emotional limits and seek help when needed. Talk to a mental health professional if you are feeling overwhelmed. If you are a caregiver struggling with your own mental health, visit to take a free, anonymous, and confidential screen.
  3. Reach out to others: It is important to create a support system of family, friends, and professionals who can provide emotional and practical support. Women are typically better than men at seeking help and reaching out to friends. The caregiver’s world can seem confining. It’s important to preserve adult connections and friendships.
  4. Practice relaxation: Make time to relax and do activities that are enjoyable and help reduce stress, such as yoga, meditation, and deep breathing. Practicing mindfulness can be an effective antidote to stress.
  5. Maintain a healthy lifestyle: Eating healthy, getting enough sleep, and exercising regularly can help reduce stress and maintain mental health. Physical activity can build brain health, maintain a sense of well-being and self esteem.
  6. Focus on the present: Try to stay in the present moment and focus on the task at hand. Avoid worrying about the future and ruminating on the past. Remember that old age and mental decline is a natural part of the human condition. Try to focus on the positive aspects of their personality and value the time you have remaining together.