Despite what health writers like me tell you about balance and self-care, caregiving is rife with stress, including self-denial, self-sacrifice, exhaustion and grief.
A Google search of “Stress and Caregiving” garners 694,000 results. Most studies into caregiving focus on the stress/adaptation theory. The stress/adaptation model, used for studying health and wellness, is quantitative, which means it can be measured by science and gives solid results.(1)
Gail Blum and her sisters have been sharing the care for their mother, diagnosed with dementia five years ago. Their personal sacrifice in time, energy and patience increases as their mother declines.
So far, studies consistently have shown that those caring for an ailing loved one, especially loved ones suffering from Alzheimer’s disease or dementia, commonly present with depression, psychotropic drug use, and decreases in physical health. (1)
No wonder. Gail’s and her sister’s responsibilities include taking their mother to doctors appointments, hair appointments and grocery shopping. They are increasingly responsible for meal preparation, and encouraging their mom to eat those meals.
Someone must pick out clothes, help their mom shower, dress and style her hair. And there's the transferring — to the toilet, from wheelchair to couch or bed, and back again.
There's laundry, monitoring medication, administering medication, entertaining her, and arranging for caregivers and then training those caregivers.
And over the past year Gail's father has been declining, needing four hospital visits in the last six weeks.
In the midst of attending to her parents, Gail is raising two daughters. The casual reader does not need a study to assess how stressed Gail might be, but a study using the stress/adaptation paradigm could prove it.
“The stress/adaptation paradigm has assisted us in more clearly identifying the links between caregiving stressors and negative outcomes, but has provided far fewer predictors of positive outcomes,” wrote Professor of Nursing Carol J. Farran in an analysis of research on caregiving.(1)