Does Caring for Elderly Parents Affect Your Health?


By Bob Kohut

The burden of caring for elderly parents is something that will one day confront almost all of us. Not only that, it is a burden that will be born for a potentially very long time as more and more of the elderly are living longer and longer. Today, seniors’ reaching the age of 100 years old is no longer an extremely rare occurrence.

Families with several siblings agonize over who should take care of Mom or Dad, or both, and the escalating cost of residential senior care makes in-home care the only option. Concerned adult children may prefer not to bounce their seniors around from family to family and instead one sibling steps forward to be the designated caregiver. But all too often in our well-intentioned efforts to be there for our parents, the issue of who will care for the caregiver is cast by the wayside.

There is mounting evidence that caring for elderly parents can have numerous ill effects on the health and well being of the caregiver. Studies of caregivers reveal poor eating habits, lack of attention to their own medical care, loss of sleep, and even no rest when they themselves take ill. Everything is about the care they are giving and the care they may need is deferred or ignored all together.

The problem can be even greater for those caregivers who have spent a lifetime of caring for others without paying much attention to their own needs. In family situations, that is usually the type of sibling who steps forward to be the principal caregiver. As children they took care of their siblings and as young adults they took care of their own children. Now they are taking care of their parents and in some cases may still be caring for some of their own older children.

And all too often they completely overlook the inescapable fact that they themselves are getting older. The sad truth is that a caregiver who ends up hospitalized only adds an additional burden to an already overburdened family.

There are plenty of things a caregiver can do to take care of themselves and the Internet is a good place to learn stress reduction techniques and different means caregivers use to eat better, sleep better, and exercise routinely. But there is little there that help some caregivers take the first step in learning to help themselves – admitting that they do need help.

Denial is a powerful force. It’s easy to read post after post on Internet blogs and forums dedicated to caregivers about health problems associated with prolonged and uninterrupted care giving and dismiss it all with a wave of the hand and a “that’s not me attitude.”

Look yourself in the mirror and assess your own situation regarding the most common ill effects of care giving. Are you depriving yourself of sleep? Do you sleep late or take naps when suffering from a cold or the flu? Are eating properly? When was the last time you got some exercise, other than in the process of caring for your elderly parent? Finally, when was the last time you took yourself off to the Doctor for a checkup?