Caregiver Stress and Depression: A Silent Health Crisis

With April comes warmer weather and sunnier days, but there also comes a time to shine a light on one of America’s biggest issues: stress. April marks National Stress Awareness month, and as our society becomes more fast-paced, it’s important to step back and take a deep breath.

Stress management has become the focal point for many health and wellness professionals. From meditation, frequent exercise and a good night’s rest, most of us know how to handle the stressors of daily life. Knowing how to handle stress can be helpful in maintaining overall well-being.

Caregiving, while rewarding in many ways, also brings significant stress, especially when the care receiver has a dementia diagnosis.  Many lives have been changed by transitioning into a new caregiver role. Within the United States, the Alzheimer’s Association estimates that dementia affects around 5 million people, a number projected to rise to 16 million by 2050. They also estimate that more than 15 million Americans are providing unpaid care to loved ones living with a dementia diagnosis. With this high of an estimate, it is crucial to learn how to properly take care of oneself as a care partner.

Caregiver Stress and Depression

When people hear about the effects of memory loss, most automatically think of the stress on those diagnosed with a type of dementia, like Alzheimer’s disease. However, care partner stress also has been proven to lead to a decline in both mental and physical health. Providing care for a loved one can be challenging as is, but adding the complexities of memory loss can present its own set of unique challenges.

In a study done by National Alliance for Caregiving and the Alzheimer’s Association, 30 to 40% of those providing care for people with cognitive impairment showed signs of depression and extreme emotional stress. Care partners consistently report higher levels of depressive symptoms and mental health issues than their non-caregiving peers. This stress can begin with a lack of knowledge or experience in caregiving. Most are ill-prepared with little to no support.

Unfortunately, this stress not only may lead to depression and anxiety but can also manifest in physical ailments as well. This is largely in part because while caring for others, the family care partners put themselves second and don’t listen to their own bodies. Those providing care are less likely to engage in preventive health behaviors and over half reported eating and exercising habits worsening after becoming a caregiver.

Although this stress is a reality for many, caregiving doesn’t have to end in health deterioration. That’s why Emory is taking innovate steps to improve the quality of life for these dyads, the patient and care partner, affected by memory loss.

Support for Caregivers and Patients with Memory Loss

Emory Brain Health Center’s Integrated Memory Care Clinic (IMCC) provides nationally recognized primary care for those living with Alzheimer’s and related dementias. This clinic exists to create a space for patients with cognitive impairment to receive individualized care in one place. The goal is to alleviate stress for care partners by decreasing the number of doctor and hospital visits patients have to endure. IMCC also provides multiple educational resources to specifically serve established patients and caregivers.

When beginning to provide care for a loved one, the transition can be very lonely. That’s why IMCC provides a supportive and encouraging community for patients and their caregivers.  Classes are offered at least twice a year for early, middle and late stage dementia education. These classes help caregivers address typical questions such as assistance programs, financial issues or difficult behavior patterns in patients. “Our various resources provide peace of mind for family care partners, knowing that this team of specialists are always ready to help,” says Laura Medders, IMCC Administrative Director, and Social Worker. IMCC has same-day appointment availability and an after-hours call line for established patients so that care providers can feel supported at any time.

Although memory loss is extremely common, caregiver stress can go unnoticed because of the disease’s gradual changes. With dementia, patients’ cognitive decline can be slow, so many care partners may not recognize the toll that caregiving takes on their own wellbeing. That’s why it’s important to seek out and take advantage of community resources from the beginning. Like any other stress, self-awareness is key to management of symptoms. If you are a caregiver and have experienced extreme stress, remember to take care of yourself. If you are experiencing caregiver burnout, here are some tips that can help you manage stress.

  • Remind yourself that your work has value
  • Find ways to mass communicate with family and friends
  • Join a support group
  • Invest in positive relationships
  • Give yourself a break
  • Talk to a healthcare provider about any anxiety and/or depression

If you or someone you know has been diagnosed with dementia, call 404-712-6929 to schedule an appointment or visit emoryhealthcare.org/imcc for more information.

Learn more about the Integrated Memory Care Clinic

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