What do we know about the impact of caregiving on caregivers’ health?
Caregivers, when they commit themselves, commit in a number of different ways. And the first is that they commit time. And that precedes the health issue, but leads to the outcomes on health. In Canada in an average year, there are about 853,000 hours given by caregivers to help family members. That equates into something of the order of 2.2 million dollars per week in lost work time in the work place, with then the equivalency of something in the order of 157,000 lost jobs per year. What that means is that caregivers are providing a workforce to help health and social services. Health and social services saves in the order of 25 billion per year in Canada, courtesy of all those amazing hours that caregivers are contributing.
The impact on the caregivers is broad in the sense that the involvement can be helping with finances, helping with meals, helping with dressing, helping with emotional support, helping with home maintenance, helping transportation, going to and from doctors, going to and from other healthcare workers, and so forth.
Over time the impact of being a caregiver has been well demonstrated in the literature to negatively affect the health, both mentally and physically, of family caregivers. Family caregivers have been observed to have more symptoms, earlier diagnoses, different kinds of mental health problems or mental health symptoms that stay with them throughout their caregiving lifespan. Emotions such as anger, guilt, resentment, bitterness, and maybe if things are going well offset some of the positives that go along with being a caregiver.
While I have suggested there are a large number of negative aspects of caregiving, it’s important to reflect that for many caregivers and care recipients there are some wonderful opportunities to have meaningful and improved relationships, because one is forced to spend a lot more time with each other and to deal with things that are perhaps of a different and more intimate nature. And caregivers, in fact, are encouraged to seek out those positives. And when one does interviews with caregivers, most caregivers are able to identify positive aspects of the caregiving despite the heavy burdens that they feel in this particular role.
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