In this topic page you can read about the health impact that caregivers experienced during and after their caregiving period. For most people, overall, caregiving seemed to have a negative impact on their physical and mental health. This varied from minor issues or symptoms to more severe episodes like being admitted to hospital for stress.
However, there were also some caregivers who did not notice any significant effects on their own health. Some caregivers described how it helped them work harder to stay healthy. For example, Anne said, “It makes me exercise more, eat better, try and keep myself healthy because I don’t want to end up like these poor people in these institutions and home.” And Jacques said, “Having to care for my daughter prevented me from ageing. It did not force me to age, it prevented me from ageing. This is the impression that I have. Because I am caring for her, I don’t have time to think that I am getting older or anything like that. I don’t have time.”
Why there is an impact on health
The caregivers we interviewed spoke about how caregiving affected their health. For example, they mentioned things like the heavy workload from managing caregiving and family life, sleep deprivation, feeling overwhelmed, stress, and depression.
Some caregivers experienced burnout at one time or other. Fernanda said, “I’m pretty much a classical case of caregiver burnout. There have been plenty of mornings when I woke up and I don’t know how much longer I can do it for.”
Some caregivers noticed that they were smoking or drinking more alcohol than before. Kai spoke about how he smoked to deal with the stress: “And it was really ironic. I’m worried about his health but (for) most youth caregivers, we really don’t care about our own health because we’re too busy worrying about whomever we’re looking after, and this gets us through the day.” One caregiver described what happens when people try to cope by using alcohol: “It’s only a temporary measure because you wake up and the next day, and it’s still the same old stuff that you’re dealing with.”
Several caregivers developed back, shoulder and neck problems from physical manoeuvres that they frequently had to perform while assisting their care recipient.
Caregivers mentioned other effects on their health, including increased blood pressure, high cholesterol, hives, stomach problems, headaches, ulcers, asthma, and palpitations. It was not always easy for the caregivers to find time and energy to visit their family physician in order to work out their own health issues.
Many caregivers spoke about increased levels of stress, anxiety, depression and burnout. For several caregivers, these problems had resulted in hospitalization at some point for stress. Some described having suicidal thoughts.
The caregivers we interviewed also spoke about other origins of their stress. They said that caregiving was stressful because “anything may happen”, “it’s nerve wracking”, or because “you have to hyper vigilant”. One caregiver felt that “caregiving is a constant worry and there is no more enjoyment.”
The stress and burden of caregiving was severe enough for some caregivers to have suicidal thoughts, just so they could escape their situation as a caregiver.
Professionals advise that if you are experiencing suicidal thoughts, please contact your local suicide hotline or other resource as soon as possible. But if the thoughts persist and you are feeling desperate, we urge you to immediately go to the ER or to call 911. Do not let go, help is close by.
Many caregivers we interviewed had seen professional counsellors to help them through their most difficult periods.