Give Thanks for Good Health Year-Round
When Americans across the country sat down last Thursday for their Thanksgiving meal, families no doubt embraced lots of traditions. These might have included a succulent turkey and side dishes whipped up from old family recipes, grandchildren's school-made holiday decorations, and family members, young and old, swapping stories-and thanks.
As many went round the holiday table and noted what they were thankful for, I bet that "good health" made the top ten list-possibly even capturing the number one or two spot.
This traditional expression of thanks got me thinking about caregivers and their own health. Unfortunately, study after study shows the impact that caregiving has on one's mental and physical state.
To share a few findings: Compared to a non-caregiver, a family caregiver who provides care for 36 hours or more per week is more prone to symptoms of depression or anxiety, and twice as likely to have a chronic condition. Furthermore, for those specifically caring for someone with dementia, the stress of this role can impact a person's immune system for up to three years after caregiving ends, boosting his or her chance of developing a chronic illness.
I don't point out this research as a scare tactic, but rather with the purpose of encouraging family caregivers to take care of their own health as they take care of their loved ones. For example, have you taken your flu shot yet? Have you had an annual medical physical? Have you checked out any new aches and pains?
Paying attention to your own well-being goes beyond medical appointments alone. It also means making time for "you." I say that, knowing that finding even a few minutes, let alone a few hours, is difficult given the 24/7 responsibilities of caring for someone with Alzheimer's disease or a related dementia.
But having these leisure moments-whether meeting a friend for golf or a cup of coffee, going for a brisk walk, reading a book or visiting a museum-can make a world of difference in terms of stress management, outlook and overall mental and physical health.
Achieving respite typically involves relying on others-for example, bringing in a family member, volunteer or paid healthcare professional to care for your loved one at home or dropping off your loved one at an adult services center.
I hope this discussion came up with family members, friends or neighbors at your Thanksgiving table last week. I hope they either graciously offered their support-or you courageously raised the issue yourself. If not, there are other days besides Thanksgiving and other holidays to discuss this critical need.
By making "taking care of yourself" a necessity rather than a luxury, you can help increase your chances of counting good health among your blessings next Thanksgiving.