For those of you who do not know my story, I am currently working as an adult and geriatric nurse practitioner. However, my other role in life is as a full-time caregiver to my husband, who suffered a stroke at age 46. Mark’s stroke was unexpected and caused by an undiagnosed genetic disorder, Moya Moya, so to say we were blind-sighted would be an understatement.
In my 17-year healthcare career, I have only worked with individuals and their families in the places that they call home. This includes skilled nursing facilities, assisted living, as well as private homes. The underlying theme through all of these different places of residence is that the majority of caregivers often forego their own health and wellness because they are so busy taking care of their person.
Most medical journal studies indicate approximately 45 million unpaid family caregivers in the United States. The estimated economic value of services provided by those caregivers exceeds 450 billion dollars a year.
Now that we are several years out from our pandemic, we really understand the value of the unpaid family caregiver. Often, these individuals are placed in a position of having to manage an individual with disabilities, advanced age, or chronic and complex health issues by themselves. Leaving them feeling overwhelmed, isolated, and stressed!
So, in case you’re wondering, who is a family caregiver? Let’s review some of the things that would make someone an unpaid family caregiver. Someone who helps with the following tasks would be considered a caregiver:
Medication setup and refills
Transporting to and from medical appointments
Helping with bills and money management
While caregiving can look different for different situations, often the overarching themes of health risks for those who are providing care are very similar!
According to the CDC, caregivers are often missing their own healthcare appointments, including annual checkups! Often, this is due to the fact that the caregiver may have had to quit their job and don’t have health insurance. Other causes may include issues with getting someone to help with their caregiver responsibilities, leaving them to not be able to get out to appointments.
These individuals are also at risk for:
Increased risk of hypertension or high blood pressure
Risks for their own health.
This is generally due to the demands on their physical and emotional health as well as their time.
Here are some more statistics from the centers for disease control.
More than half of the caregivers indicated that they have a decline in their own health, which compromises their ability to provide care. I cannot stress this point enough! Individuals are out there caring for others and are suffering themselves!
So let’s just take a step back and think about what that would mean for the millions of people who are receiving care from an unpaid caregiver.
I can tell you that after 17 years of working in healthcare, I have never seen the healthcare system as strained and as short staff as it is right now. So let’s just say what would happen if you, as an unpaid family caregiver, were unable to provide care for your person.
While you may “feel fine,” you may be at risk for an underlying health issue that can present itself sooner than later. What would happen to your person if you could no longer provide care? Do you have someone else in mind that would have to take over the responsibilities that you are now carrying? Would you expect that your person would be put in a long-term care facility?
For most of us, this is a terrifying thought.
Many caregivers report feeling mentally unhealthy for more than 14 days a month. That means for almost half the month, these individuals are feeling overwhelmed by stress, depression, anxiety, and even insomnia.
Many of these caregivers also report 14 or more caregivers to report feeling physically unhealthy in a month. Indicating their own health issues are being ignored because of their responsibility for taking care of their person. In my mind, this is unacceptable. We can do better!
I can look at scientific studies, surveys, and medical journals all day long. However, the most jarring reality is what I see every day in my own practice.
Caregivers, who in my opinion are the backbone of our health care system, not having the opportunity to make sure that they are well, healthy, and have a good quality of life for themselves.
While this bothered me as a registered nurse, and a nurse practitioner, It really hit home when I became a full-time caregiver myself. Well, I have been doing this job, being a caregiver for my spouse, for the last 7 years, the last year I have had more illnesses than I have in my lifetime!
It has occurred to me that it is not noble, wise, or even remotely cute that I am ignoring my own health. Not only am I putting myself at risk, but I’m also putting Mark’s quality of life at risk.
I have decided to start my own medical practice allowing caregivers access to healthcare via telehealth when appropriate, to hopefully make a dent in my little part of the world. The vision for my practice is to allow caregivers to receive good quality personalized health care from the comfort of their own homes.
As one caregiver being allowed the opportunity to care for another caregiver, I hope that this practice will change the way caregivers take care of themselves, and ultimately care for those around them.
We don’t get points for being a martyr, we don’t get awards for sacrificing our own health, and all we do is put ourselves and the person we’re caring for at risk.
I am not sure about the rest of you caregivers, but I have no desire to place the responsibility of caring for Mark on my children or on the current healthcare system which is beyond strained!
As always care givers I admire and respect everything that you do and hope that you will find time to reach out to me with any questions.