In addition to mental health problems, caregiving takes a toll on physical health as well. The exertion of caregiving can lead to muscle strain as well as worsening of arthritis and other chronic illnesses.
Many busy caregivers neglect their own health needs. They may suffer from poor diet and lack of exercise, which can increase the risk for diabetes, Alzheimer’s, heart disease, and other chronic illnesses.
Depression and other mental health problems increase susceptibility to infections as well.
Systematic research has shown that poor caregiver health is associated with increased behavioral and cognitive problems in the patient receiving the care.
Worse health outcomes also occur when the caregiver lives with the patient.
Dr. Janice Kiecolt-Glaser and her colleagues at Ohio State University assessed changes in depression, immune function, and health in spousal caregivers who had been providing care for an average of five years.
After one year of follow-up, caregivers showed decreased function of their immune systems and reported more days of infectious illness than control subjects, usually as a result of upper respiratory tract infections.
Those reporting less social support showed the greatest negative changes in their immune function.
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