Know Your Caregiver Risks

Posted on January 24, 2022

Suppose you're a senior who cares for a spouse with dementia. In that case, you may be at an increased risk of developing cognitive problems or dementia yourself, not only because of the stress of caring for a loved one who is ill but also because of certain lifestyle choices that you may be making. 

These findings, which were recently published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, show that specific steps are needed to help caregivers maintain cognitive and functional health and the ability to care for those who need them. Spouse caregivers are crucial because most care recipients like to be taken care for in their homes, as by remaining in their homes, health care costs are significantly reduced." 

  • Furthermore, they found that this cognitive decline may be due to an extensive range of causes: Psychosocial factors such as social isolation, depression, loneliness, and sleep problems—you have less time to devote to hobbies and favorite pastimes and seeing friends and family. 
  • Behavioral factors such as little or no exercise and a poor diet—you may rely on fatty fast food because there’s no time to shop and prepare meals; and 
  • Physiological factors such as obesity chronically elevated insulin and inflammation. Many of these causes are interrelated.

According to the studies, diet, often a shared lifestyle factor for persons with dementia and their spouses, has, together with physical activity, been receiving greater attention as a risk factor for cognitive decline and dementia. Diets high in saturated and trans-unsaturated fats may increase Alzheimer's risk, whereas mono- and polyunsaturated fats, including omega-3 fatty acids, may protect against cognitive decline. 

Obesity, often the result of no exercise and a bad diet, particularly in midlife, is another risk factor for cognitive impairment and dementia. According to some studies, caregivers have more significant weight problems than non-caregivers. Having long-term diabetes—often a consequence of poor lifestyle choices—is a greater risk for cognitive decline. 

Insulin resistance, high insulin levels, and the risk for dementia grow as you accrue more risk factors. For example, if obesity, insulin resistance, and inflammation occur together, they may synergize with cognitive decline.

Getting The Help & Attention, You Need

Caregivers unfortunately often put themselves last, neglecting their health and wellness needs, not eating a well-balanced diet, and not getting medical attention when they have a problem. Rather than thinking of self-care as selfish, think of it as essential to continuing in your role of caregiver.

Step one is to decrease your stress level. That might very well necessitate getting caregiving help and not necessarily from another family member. A company like Homewatch Caregivers is a service business with home helpers trained to aid dementia patients; they can assist you and enable you to take a break each day, even if it’s just to clear your head. 

It would be to make healthy lifestyle steps, like exercising and preparing healthy, home-cooked meals. If you’re unsure of what better health fixes you need the most, ask your doctor for a referral to a registered dietitian or fitness trainer. 

Joining a support group is another great step you can take to gain motivation and a renewed outlook. Focus on interacting with others to avoid the consequences of isolation, like depression. 

Have your blood pressure, blood glucose levels, and insulin levels checked. Your blood sugar levels can seem within range even as type 2 diabetes develops. Testing insulin can give a complete picture. Also, check in with your doctor. 

Sometimes caregiving can have an overwhelmingly negative effect on your emotional outlook—and on top of that, you can feel guilty for feeling angry or frustrated by what's happened to you and your loved one. 

Cognitive-behavioral or talk therapy, with a skilled therapist who can help you identify and deal with your particular stressors, will give you the support you need. You want to be a good caregiver—that means taking care of yourself so that you can effectively take care of others.