Caregivers, Call Your Doctor

Casey Kelly-Barton
By Casey Kelly-BartonJune 12, 2018
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“National Call Your Doctor Day” is June 12 and it’s the perfect time to remind you that if you’re a family caregiver, your health is important.

National Call Your Doctor Day

BrightPink began National Call Your Doctor Day to remind women to schedule their annual well-woman exam because more than 90% of Millennials skip preventive care.

Although we often assume that family caregivers are middle-aged adult children or spouses, one in four family caregivers in the U.S. — or ten million peopleis a Millennial, according to a report from AARP.

Skipping routine care puts these young caregivers at risk for the types of chronic health issues that all caregivers face, including depression and exhaustion that both generally occur at an earlier age than the typical caregiver.

Why Caregiver Health Is an Issue

The Caregiver Action Network (CAN) reports that more than 70% of family caregivers say they don’t see their physician as often as they should. That lack of regular preventive care puts their health at risk because these caregivers miss out on things like blood pressure checks, chronic disease management and mental health screenings.

Unfortunately, research has also found that people’s health often declines when they add caregiving to their other responsibilities, especially if they’re caring for someone with dementia or mental illness whose behaviors may be unpredictable and challenging. The health impacts of caregiving are real and can have ripple effects.

Caregivers of dementia patients can suffer immune system damage for as long as three years after they stop caregiving, putting them at risk for developing a chronic disease. Sleep deprivation can worsen stress, make decision-making harder and contribute to excess weight gain — which in turn can contribute to arthritis, diabetes and other chronic conditions. Caregivers also develop clinical depression at a higher rate than non-caregivers the same age.

What Caregivers Can Do to Protect Their Health

It’s easy to look at a list of self-care tips and think about how you don’t have time to do any of them. That’s why the first step toward better health is getting some caregiving help. It’s always a good idea to have a backup caregiver arrangement in place in case you have an accident or become seriously ill. Regular breaks give you the time you need to go to the doctor, prepare a healthy meal or take a nap or walk so that maybe you can avoid that serious illness or injury.

If you feel guilty about taking your parent to an adult day program once a week or having a helper come to your parent’s home in the evenings, try thinking of it as care for you.

When you’re well cared-for, you’ll be a better caregiver to the people you love.

Once you have some room in your schedule, you can work on these steps toward better health:

  1. Eat as well as you can.
  2. Find a caregiver support group.
  3. Keep tabs on your stress level and wellbeing at home. You can use this caregiver health checklist from the American Medical Association.
  4. Make and keep your checkup appointments (dental, medical and vision) to maintain your overall health.
  5. Make regular plans to do something you want to do, either with friends or by yourself.
  6. Set aside time each day for exercise.
  7. Use technology to make your caregiving tasks less stressful.

Resources for Caregivers

Ask your doctor if his or her office sends out email and text reminders when you’re due for a checkup — that alone can help keep you on track.

Other resources for caregivers include:

  1. Brightpink offers health management tips and well-woman exam reminders with an emphasis on breast and ovarian cancer screenings.
  2. The Family Caregiver Alliance online learning center has a library of articles and videos to help caregivers take better care of themselves and their loved ones.
  3. Caregiver Action Network has a Family Caregiver Toolbox full of resources like printable doctor visit checklists and tips on finding support groups.
  4. The nation’s Area Agencies on Aging can help you find local respite care and support groups. Individual counseling and training for caregivers may be available through the AAAs’ National Family Caregiver Support Program.

You can also get detailed information about respite care and home health options near you by speaking with a Senior Living Advisor in your area.

Are you planning on honoring “National Call Your Doctor Day?” When did you last have a health checkup? We’d like to hear more from you in the comments below.

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Casey Kelly-Barton
Casey Kelly-Barton