There are countless positive aspects to long-term caregiving, but those who’ve done it know that there are also negative effects, many lifelong. While some effects have been well studied during this last decade, there are changes that occur within most caregiver’s lives that are hard to measure. Some are nearly universal to caregivers, some perhaps more unique to the individual. Below is a short list from my personal experience when it comes to negative effects of caregiving. You, the reader, may have additions and subtractions if you were to make your own list.
- Financial: Common negative aspects to caring for aging family members are direct financial loss from money paid out for items and/or services concerning care as well as the loss of wages if a wage earner quits a paying job or moves to part-time. Often worse, however, is the compounding of that lost because less money can be put aside for the caregiver’s own retirement. The eventual earnings from Social Security or an employer subsidized 401K can take an enormous hit. The caregiver may find that many thousands of future dollars have been sacrificed in order to be a family caregiver.
- Physical: One study has shown that long-term caregiving can shorten the lifespan of the caregiver up to eight years. While that dramatic effect won’t be true for every caregiver, many of us develop autoimmune disorders and other types of diseases during our heavy caregiving years. Additionally, we are apt to neglect our own checkups and even ignore symptoms of illness because we don’t have the time or energy to tend to our own health. Exercise and diet often fall by the wayside, as well.
- Mental: Stress says it all. Stress can be the underlying factor in the shortened lifespan and ill health mentioned above. However, stress can also place the caregiver at a higher risk for developing dementia, particularly Alzheimer’s. This fact worries caregivers. In turn, the worry increases stress.
- Emotional: No matter how well we are taking care of our loved ones - or took care of those who have passed on - we’ll be second guessing ourselves. We feel guilty. Could we have done better? Should we have pressured the doctor for this surgery or that medication only to keep or loved one’s body alive a few weeks longer? Guilt seems to accompany taking over the care of another human being’s welfare. It’s something we live with.
- Roads not taken: Had I not spent decades as a family caregiver would I have pursued my dream of earning my Master’s Degree in Library Science? Would I have written novels instead of from-the-heart, sometimes unpleasantly naked, caregiving stories and advice? One never knows. It can be easy to fall into the “what if” trap, but that will always be a part of life. If a caregiver starts thinking "what if" too often, it’s time to practice gratitude and look for the positive in all that we are doing or did in the past.
Practicing gratitude is likely to lead you straight into the topic of my next article which is about five of the_ positive effects of caregiving._ Gratitude helps me remember that while we can’t ignore the fact that there can be negative repercussions from long-term caregiving, for many of us the positives far outweigh the negatives.