February 17, 2003
According to research from the University of Pittsburgh, there are more than 15 million adults providing care to elderly or disabled relatives. Most caregivers are middle-aged adult children or spouses. While looking after loved ones, caregivers often neglect themselves. But, there are things they can do to take better care of themselves.
For the past 14 years, Noemi La Hoz has been the sole caregiver of her elderly mother, who's been slowly slipping away with Alzheimer's disease.
"I lost my mother, I lost my friend -- everything -- because I'm a widow, and she was my partner," La Hoz tells Ivanhoe.
But like many of the 15 million caregivers in the United States, La Hoz's devotion to her mother has taken a physical and emotional toll. She says, "I went to the hospital with palpitations for 36 hours because I became so devoted to my mother that I thought I was becoming a hero."
Clinical Psychologist Mark Rubert, Ph.D., of the University of Miami in Fla., tells Ivanhoe, "One of the biggest problems for most caregivers is taking care of themselves."
Rubert says caregivers face a higher risk of health problems including heart attack, stroke, depression-even death.
He says the first thing that caregivers need to do is ask for help. Also keep a list of tasks others can do to take the burden off of you. Find a day care for your loved one to make time for yourself, and get plenty of exercise.
"[Caregivers] need to make sure their health is good so they can continue to take care of their loved one," says Rubert.
La Hoz says it may be stressful, but she's glad she's able to give something back to her mother. "No matter what, I have her with me, I touch it, she laughs, we kiss each other. Love is the magic word."
The health of caregivers doesn't always improve once the burden of caregiving
ends. Researchers found negative effects of long-term care go beyond the
caregiving years. For more about caring for people with Alzheimer's visit
Copyright © 2003 Ivanhoe Broadcast News, Inc.