On October 31, Barak Obama declared November to be National Caregiver Month. The White House noted that more than 60 million Americans deliver care to seniors or people with disabilities and illnesses.
More than 318,000 Oregonians are caregivers, according to the State of Oregon, and the Department of Health and Human Services says at least 61% of them are women. Most have jobs in addition to their caregiving duties.
The term, caregiver stress, refers to a medically confirmed condition that impacts caregivers as the result of their work. Substantial research shows that stress can damage caregivers with increases in risk for depression and insomnia, and chronic diseases such as cancer, diabetes and heart attack, among many other illnesses. The stress of caring for a family member with dementia has been shown to impact a person’s immune system for up to three years – even after caregiving ends.
Salem Caregiver advocates Elaine and Dr. Alex Sanchez, who run CaregiverHelp.com, an online, video-based caregiver support program, say “the state of physical, emotional and mental exhaustion” which results from caregivers’ need to direct so much energy towards others while ignoring their own needs, results in “extreme emotional stress.” This, they say, can shorten the lives of caregivers by as much as ten years.
The Oregon.gov site offers services and programs for Oregonians struggling with caregiving challenges, including providing tips and guides, information about chronic pain, resources and referrals.