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Caregivers Often Neglect Their Health

National Study Shows High Rates of Fatigue and Depression

'Alarming' Effects on Health continued...

Although the caregivers were aware of a downward spiral in their health status, nearly three-quarters of them said they weren't seeing their doctor or dentist as often as they should and half of them reporting missing doctor's appointments. More than one in five of the women said they were getting mammograms less often and a similar proportion of men said they weren't up to date on prostate exams.

About half of the caregivers reported increased medication use, and one in 10 said they were misusing prescription drugs or alcohol to cope with stress.

"This is alarming," Snelling says. "On average, caregivers spend four and a half years in a caregiving situation. We don't want to see ourselves in a public health crisis because caregivers are not taking care of themselves."

Caregiver Woes Often Unrecognized

"I'm not sure that there's a terribly large amount of new stuff here. But this study certainly shows the overall impact to caregivers and has done an incredibly good job of pulling together the data," Eric J. Hall, CEO of the Alzheimer's Foundation of America tells WebMD.

"Caregivers are truly the heroes of our society," Hall says. "They do incredible work day in and day out, sometimes with little recognition or gratitude."

Although the study showed that more than half of caregivers forgo doctor visits because they're placing the care recipient's needs ahead of their own, Hall says it would have been stronger if it had emphasized caregivers' primary motivation: love.

"They're doing this out of an incredibly large heart," he says. "They end up sick because they are so absolutely committed by love to care for their loved one. It's outrageous that this has a negative effect on their health."

Relieving the Burden

"Now that we know more about caregivers, it's important to provide them with early interventions and prevention so they don't get to this fair or poor health status," Mach says.

"It's important for caregivers to know they aren't alone and that there are a lot of resources to help them shoulder the burden," Snelling says.

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