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If you’re a family caregiver, reading the results of the latest Stress in America survey won’t be comforting at all. The link between caregiving and health has been widely documented. And now there’s further proof that those tending a chronically ill or aging family member have higher levels of stress, worse health, and a proclivity to engage in detrimental behavior (poor eating, not enough sleep or exercise).

While getting older is typically associated with less stress, that’s not the case if you’re an age 50+ family caregiver, maintains the American Psychological Association survey.

Caregivers vs. the rest of the population

In the study, both caregivers and non-caregivers were asked questions about their health. Here’s how caregivers fared:

  • They said they were in poorer health, with higher rates of high cholesterol, high blood pressure, weight gain/obesity, and depression.
  •  Sixty-two percent reported their stress level had increased in the past five years vs. 37% for non-caregivers of the same age, and in the last year, 60% vs. 38%.
  •  They thought they were doing a worse job preventing themselves from stress (55% compared to 44%) as well as recovering from it (39% vs. 31%).
  •  One of their sources of stress was their health concerns. They felt more physical (94% to 76%) symptoms, had more insomnia (60% vs. 40%), ate too much or not the right things (53%-39%) or skipped meals (48% vs. 29%).
  •  The quality of their relationships with peers, spouses, significant others, or friends suffered more.

Prescription for reducing stress?

Would that a chill pill could do the trick! But there are other ways: the study found that receiving support from family members made a huge difference. These caregivers reported less anger and irritability, sadness or depression, and isolation, and developed better ways to manage stress than counterparts going it alone.

The back-up team doesn’t have to be restricted to family members. Understanding the fallout for caregivers, communities are stepping in to offer programs that provide TLC., strategies for coping, contact with other caregivers, and education about area resources, from adult day care to insurance issues.

A piece I wrote last month for the AARP Bulletin profiles three such programs in San Antonio, Orlando and Pittsburgh.

They are three of 14 programs in nine states that are part of the Caregiver Initiative. Established by The Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation, the Initiative supports progressive and evidence-based community projects for low and moderate-income older adults.

Look for more “Caring for caregiver programs,” as they are often dubbed, in the next year.

Other resources: the National Family Caregivers Association and the Family Caregiver Alliance.

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