Are you suffering from caregiver syndrome?

Filed under: Just For Moms, Just For Dads, Relatives, Places To Go, Siblings, Health & Safety: Babies

If you aren't already caring for a family member who is aging or ill, there is a good chance that at some point you will be. According to the American Academy of Geriatric Psychiatrists, one out of every four American families is currently caring for someone over the age of 50. And as the number of people over the age of 65 increases, so will the number of family caregivers.

The stress of caring for someone with a chronic illness or dementia can lead to depression, anger and guilt, which can take a toll on the caregiver's health. Peter Vitaliano, a professor of geriatric psychiatry at the University of Washington, says that this chronic stress can lead to high blood pressure, diabetes and a compromised immune system. In severe cases, the caregiver takes on the symptoms of the person they are caring for, such as memory loss.

Those who find themselves in this situation may not realize it, but their condition is beginning to be recognized by the medical community, who are referring to it as 'caregiver syndrome'. Dr. Jean Posner, a neuropsychiatrist in Baltimore, Maryland describes caregiver syndrome as "a debilitating condition brought on by unrelieved, constant caring for a person with a chronic illness or dementia."

Because the syndrome is not yet recognized in American medical literature, it is rarely addressed by physicians. What's more, many caregivers don't seek help because they don't realize they have a real condition. While Professor Vitaliano believes more research is needed to spread awareness of the condition, he is unsure whether it should be granted an official place in the medical texts. He worries that if it were included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, there is the possibility that those who have it would be stigmatized. In his opinion, the answer lies in creating a societal expectation that we will care for our elderly, thus reducing the numbers of caregivers who suffer in isolation.

Others feel that making it an official diagnosis would encourage medical professionals to address the issue and develop strategies for treating it.

I personally like idea number one, but think idea number two has a better chance of ultimately helping those who are suffering.

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AdviceMama Says:
Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.