• Many studies have found that caregiver’s immune systems suffer from the stress of caregiving. It was easy for me to see that depression can be an issue. Back injury, heart disease, other diseases like cancer, when check-ups are skipped because we caregivers lack time and energy to take care of ourselves, are also an issue. But, it was only recently that I was struck with the toll stress plays in auto-immune disease.

    I have rheumatoid arthritis. So did my grandmother, so I just assumed I was set up for it though genes. And that is likely true. But, not until I was speaking a couple of weeks ago, in Park Rapids, Minnesota, did I wonder if my two decades of caregiving stress had anything to do with it with my RA.
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    It was a small group – maybe twenty-five of us. Two women, one younger, the other around my age, came up to visit after the talk. Each, independently, told me they had developed rheumatoid arthritis suddenly, as it often comes on, toward the end of years of intense caregiving! That was three of us in a small group.

    Three women chatting after an event do not a study make. But I have recently read a report where auto-immune diseases are being studied in groups of caregivers. Stress seems to play a part in the onset of auto-immune disorders; it can be physical, as in an infection, or mental, as in caregiver burnout. These women got me thinking – would I have gotten it anyway – with or without two decades of elder care? I don’t know, of course. Would I have done what I did, knowing that the result would be a chronic pain disorder? A qualified yes.

    RA aside, I know I should have taken better care of myself. I should have looked for and accepted respite care and other forms of relief. I should not have set myself up as caregiver of the world.

    Whether or not I would have gotten RA no longer matters. I’ve got it. But spreading the message to other caregivers that they should not isolate and carry the load alone does matter. This has become my mantra. Get help. Don’t be a martyr. Take care of your health, and everyone wins.

    If you have suffered health problems that you feel are connected with non-stop stress from caregiving, feel free to share on the message board or send me an e-mail. I’d love to gather someinformation, in an informal way, through the site. We’ll leave the studies to others, but let’s share among ourselves. My e-mail is carol@mindingourelders.com. I’ll share results later.
Published On: July 03, 2006