Why Caregiving Stress Can Be a Health Risk
Health Risks for Women Over 40: Page 2
The average caregiver in the U.S. is a woman in her late 40s. Many are "sandwichers," looking after both children and aging parents. With little time or opportunity for adequate self-care, they're prone to caregiving stress syndrome, a condition linked to a medical chart full of health woes, including obesity, diabetes, heart disease, high cholesterol, dementia, and back strain. More than 70 percent of family caregivers show signs of depression.
Men care for loved ones, too, of course. But women tend to have more negative experiences as caregivers than men, who focus more on problem-solving and less on emotional nuances, says I-Fen Lin, a sociologist at Bowling Green State University. Wives caring for husbands report the highest stress load, her research shows.
Oops: Caregivers are twice as likely to manage stress by smoking, according to the American Psychological Foundation's 2012 Stress in America report. And they're 25 times more likely to binge drink. Emotional eating is another common coping strategy that backfires on health.
Silver lining: When stress is managed with good self-care and time off, many caregivers report a deeply enriching experience. Some caregivers even show improved longevity, better memory, and better physical strength, as well as a sense of meaning and purpose, say Boston University researchers.