©2005 Family Caregiver Alliance
As a caregiver, you’re often on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Sometimes the prolonged stress and physical demands can strain even the most capable person. You want to provide the best possible care, but in the process you can pay a high price: you neglect your own physical and emotional health. In fact, caring for yourself is one of the most overlooked elements of being a caregiver.
Yet, without your good health, your loved one’s health can suffer. If you become ill, you may:
Infect your loved one.
Make caregiving errors or questionable decisions.
Have to resort to more costly alternatives for care.
Be separated from your loved one if you need to be hospitalized.
There is, however, one thing you can do right away to stay healthy. It’s quick, easy and effective: immunize yourself against some of the most preventable infectious diseases.
Caregivers Are at Risk
You know that taking care of a loved one can be very rewarding—but it can also cause stress, depression and lowered resistance to physical illness. Lack of sleep contributes to caregivers’ health problems, too. Studies have shown that:
Caregivers care for themselves less than non-caregivers do.
Approximately half of all caregivers show clinical signs of depression.
Older caregiving spouses are at higher risk of dying than non-caregivers of the same age.
Younger “baby boomers”—those dealing simultaneously with parents, children and career—are also at increased risk for illness.
First Things First
Even though you may not be able to cure your loved one’s condition, you are careful to ensure he or she gets proper medical and preventive care. But you need to do something for your own health as well. Why start with immunization?
Up to 40,000 American adults die each year from vaccine-preventable diseases. Vaccinations are easy, safe and effective! The Centers for Disease Control and prevention (CDC) has recommended immunizations for professional healthcare workers since 1981. Immunizations are becoming a standard for health professionals, and they should be for you, too.
The Big Three
With immunization, you have protection against certain diseases. The most important immunizations you should have are against influenza, pneumococcal disease, and tetanus.
Influenza and pneumonia are the fifth leading cause of death in older adults.
More than 90% of those who die from flu and pneumonia are people 65 years of age and older.
Tetanus, although rare, tends more often to be fatal for older adults.
Where Can You Get Immunized?
You can get these vaccines from your family doctor. In addition, your community health department or hospital may hold special clinics to offer influenza, pneumococcal and other vaccinations. Sometimes senior centers and pharmacies offer them, and during flu season, you may even see clinics set up in shopping malls, grocery stores and other places. Costs may be covered by Medicare Part B, Medicaid or your private health insurance or HMO.
Make Room for Yourself
Caregiving can be an emotional roller coaster. You need to think about meeting your own needs while continuing to take care of someone else’s.
Your sense of responsibility, of doing the right thing, of “giving back” to someone who once took care of you, can only come about if you remain healthy. So take special care of yourself. There are a number of ways to improve and maintain your health. Seek out caregiver support services in your community. Join a support group—in-person or online. Take breaks from caregiving. Get rest, get exercise, get others to help. But before you do that, be wise… and IMMUNIZE!
To Learn More
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
National Foundation for Infectious Diseases (NFID)
Adapted from Be Wise...Immunize!, a new fact sheet developed by the National Center on Caregiving at Family Caregiver Alliance for the Administration on Aging. The fact sheet is posted online and may be downloaded from http://www.caregiver.org or http://www.AoA.gov. English, Spanish, Chinese, Russian and Vietnamese versions are available.
©2005 Family Caregiver Alliance
E-mail to a Friend