Caring for Caregivers of Family Members with Chronic Diseases

by | Jan 30, 2024 | Medical Wellness

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Living with chronic conditions like diabetes, asthma, or dementia is challenging, and caring for someone dealing with these challenges is no easy feat. As a caregiver, you’re doing something incredibly noble and selfless. Taking care of others can bring fulfilment and meaning to your life. But let’s be real – caregiving comes with its fair share of stress. 

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A study from the memory clinic at the National University Hospital in Singapore found that caregivers of people with dementia often experience emotional stress. Importantly, the longer you’ve been a caregiver and the more severe the patient’s condition, the higher the stress levels you may be facing. 

Let’s talk about the real costs of caring for loved ones with long-term illnesses. One study revealed that caring for people with dementia is nearly 9 times costlier annually than the general population (SG$44,530.55 vs SG$5,477.03). Additionally, managing multiple chronic conditions, aside from dementia, can be about SGD$15,148 per person yearly, compared to SGD$5,610 for one chronic condition, and SGD$2,806 for none.

It’s a real challenge, and it’s okay to talk about it. Taking care of yourself is just as important as taking care of others.

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How Does Stress Impact You as a Caregiver?

  1. Lower Quality of Life

According to NCSS caregivers often find themselves dealing with a lower quality of life, especially in areas like recreation, finances, sleep, and positive emotions. This is particularly true if you lack extra assistance or are caregiving for multiple individuals.

  1. Physical Health

Chronic stress tends to tag along with issues like trouble sleeping, headaches, digestive problems, and a weakened immune system. Over time, these physical symptoms can contribute to chronic diseases such as diabetes, hypertension, and arthritis.

  1. Emotional Wellbeing 

The constant demands of caregiving can stir up strong emotions, such as anxiety, depression, guilt, and frustration. Plus, the lack of “me time” and a sense of isolation can make you feel pretty lonely and emotionally drained

Practical Tips for Caregivers

  1. “Self-care is not selfish; you cannot serve from an empty vessel.” – Eleanor Brownn

Remember, taking care of yourself is a necessity. Ignoring your own needs can make it tough to provide good care to others. Self-care involves giving yourself a break, doing things you enjoy, and making sure you’re getting enough sleep and eating well.

  1. “Don’t bite off more than you can chew.”

You can’t do everything, and that’s okay. Be real about what you can handle. Set realistic goals and establish boundaries to ease the pressure. Plan your caregiving routine and use tech to help keep things organized. 

  1. “The meaning of life is to give life meaning.” – Viktor E. Frankl

Finding purpose in caregiving is a big motivator, but it can be hard when you’re tired out. Take breaks, seek inspiration, connect with loved ones, and reflect on meaningful moments to recharge that sense of purpose.

  1. “A burden shared is a burden halved.”

You’re not alone in this journey. Reach out to friends, family, or caregiver support groups in your community for both emotional support and practical help. Professional therapy or counselling can give you useful tools to handle stress and emotions better.

When to Seek Help

  1. Feeling distressed

Pay attention to signs like headaches, trouble sleeping, or digestive problems. Feeling persistently sad or overly worried? These are red flags. It’s crucial to get professional help to prevent stress from turning into serious health issues.

  1. Unable to keep up

When taking care of someone starts taking over your life, to the point where you’re neglecting yourself, your daily tasks, or your job, it’s a clear signal that it’s time to get support. 

“Caring for the caregiver is essential. You can’t be there for others if you don’t take care of yourself.”

This article was fact-checked by Professor Kua Ee Heok, senior consultant psychiatrist at Mind Care Clinic, Farrer Park Hospital, Singapore.

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