July 28th, 2011 at 6:57 pm
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Middle-aged women not expected to outlive male counterparts

by Carol Bursack

We’ve read the statistics repeatedly. Stress shortens life. Caregivers are generally stressed by the many demands, both emotional and physical, on their time and energy. Many are of the sandwich generation–defined as caregivers for both the young and the aged. Several studies have found that 30 percent of caregivers will die before the people they care for. This is not just true of older caregivers. All ages are at risk since stress levels, combined with self-neglect because of time constraints and exhaustion, can lead to undetected cancers, depression, auto-immune diseases, high blood pressure and other health risks.

Female caregivers: lives cut short

An ABC News video reports on an eye-opening study by the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index stating that today’s middle-aged women are the first generation of females not expected to significantly outlive their male counterparts. This group of women is likely to be caring for one or more elders as well as growing children. They are often employed and attempting to sustain a satisfying marriage. The report places the stress levels of these women above that of a fireman, a stockbroker or an air traffic controller.

Gail Sheehy, author of Passages in Caregiving, is interviewed in this ABC News report. Sheehy says the only way to turn this forecast around is for women who are immersed in the caregiver role to find ways to care for themselves as well as others. Sheehy recommends what she calls a circle of care, which was described as a type of “caregiver carpooling.”

In a circle of care, friends and neighbors step up to help out over-worked caregivers, who in turn, when their friends need help, will pitch in to become part of that friend’s circle of care. This concept has been recommended by experts and others who are caring for loved ones, old or young.

Finding caregiving help isn’t always that easy

The concept of a circle of care is wonderful, and some groups of people can make it work. However, the reality of life is that many people’s friends are in their age group and many are in the same situation–inundated with caring for family elders. They have no time to spare.

If you can gather enough friends, relatives, neighbors and members of your spiritual community to help, you certainly should do so and that could get you some respite. The concept is ideal. However, since we all won’t have that option, I’d suggest getting emotional support, even if it’s online, from other caregivers. Often, just sharing your frustrations and grief with people who understand your situation because they actually walk your path can bring significant relief.

I suggest that we ask our spiritual communities to make caregiving support a part of their ministry. Many times, a caregiver can get by if only someone cares enough to visit with their elder while the caregiver gets out to do something–anything–for themselves.

We, as a nation, need to step up and support one another. Material help is greatly appreciated. Emotional support can literally be a lifesaver, as well. Both are optimal. Let’s try to prove the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index wrong by being better friends and neighbors so that caregivers can lessen their stress before it’s too late.

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