When someone is diagnosed with cancer, naturally, the primary concern on everyone’s mind is the patient. As time goes on, the patient’s primary caregiver often begins to experience caregiver burnout. Thankfully, there are people who take on the task of caring for the caregiver. They are angels in disguise. This series comes from chapter 10 of my book, Facing Cancer as a Friend: How to Support Someone who has Cancer. Facing Cancer as a Friend is available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle formats.
The Value of a Caregiver: Priceless
An estimated 44 million Americans ages 18 and older provide unpaid assistance and support to older people and adults with disabilities who live in the community.1
The value of this unpaid labor force is estimated to be at least $306 billion annually,2 nearly double the combined costs of home health care ($43 billion) and nursing home care ($115 billion).3
In most cases, the primary caregiver is a spouse, partner, or an adult child. If a patient doesn’t have family nearby, close friends, co-workers, or neighbors sometimes fill this role.
Good, reliable caregiver support is crucial to the physical and emotional well-being of people with cancer.
Who Cares for the Caregiver?
Often, caregivers spend so much time taking care of the patient and the patient’s responsibilities that they forget to take care of themselves, resulting in caregiver burnout. It’s often difficult for them to fit exercise into their schedule. Eating well takes a back seat. It’s common for a caregiver to feel guilty if they take the time to pursue a hobby or just take time for themselves on a regular basis.
Many caregivers have a positive experience. They feel a sense of accomplishment and even joy at being able to help someone they love. Even with the benefits that can come from being a caregiver, many caregivers experience caregiver burnout and stress.
Signs and Symptoms of Caregiver Burnout:
- Feeling overwhelmed
- Feeling alone, isolated, or deserted by others
- Sleeping too much or too little
- Gaining or losing a lot of weight
- Feeling tired most of the time
- Losing interest in activities you used to enjoy
- Becoming easily irritated or angered
- Feeling worried or sad often
- Frequent headaches or body aches
Some of the Ways Caregiver Burnout and Stress Affect Caregivers:
- Depression and anxiety. Women who are caregivers are more likely than men to develop symptoms of anxiety and depression. Anxiety and depression also raise your risk for other health problems, such as heart disease and stroke.
- Weakened immune system. Stressed caregivers may have weaker immune systems than non-caregivers and spend more days sick with the cold or flu. A weak immune system can also make vaccines such as flu shots less effective. Also, it may take longer to recover from surgery.
- Stress causes weight gain more often in women than in men. Obesity raises your risk for other health problems, including heart disease, stroke, and diabetes.
- Higher risk for chronic diseases. High levels of stress, especially when combined with depression, can raise your risk for health problems, such as heart disease, cancer, diabetes, or arthritis.
- Problems with short-term memory or paying attention. In particular, caregivers of spouses with Alzheimer’s disease are at higher risk for problems with short-term memory and focusing.4
The next post in the “Who Cares for the Caregiver,” series will give you plenty of ideas for how to help someone who is caring for a loved one facing a cancer diagnosis or any other critical illness or trial. Be sure to sign up to be notified when I publish my weekly blog post, and for the Heather Erickson Author/Writer/Speaker Newsletter. I’d greatly appreciate it if you shared this blog on your social media so that others can learn how to support those facing cancer.
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In 2012 doctors diagnosed my husband, Dan, with stage IV lung cancer. Since then, our family has been learning what it means to face cancer. I’ve focused my writing and speaking on helping cancer patients and their families advocate for themselves and live life to the fullest, in spite of their illness. My goal is to help people face cancer with grace. My books are available at Amazon.com:
I also blog at Heather Erickson Author/Writer/Speaker
1 National Alliance for Caregiving & AARP. (2004). Caregiving in the U.S. Washington, DC: Author.
2 National Family Caregivers Association & Family Caregiver Alliance (2006). Prevalence, Hours and Economic Value of Family Caregiving, Updated State-by-State Analysis of 2004 National Estimates (by Peter S. Arno, Ph.D.). Kensington, MD: NFCA & San Francisco, CA: FCA.
3 Arno, P.S. (2006). Economic Value of Informal Caregiving: 2004. Presented at the Care Coordination & the Caregiver Forum, Department of Veterans Affairs, January 25-27, 2006.