DIMENSIONS Spring 2006

CAREGIVERS: THE FORGOTTEN PATIENTS

If you care for a family member with dementia, you probably already recognize the importance of your role as “health care manager.” Since you are directly involved in day-to-day care, you provide information about your relative’s medical history, symptoms and treatments. When new medicines are given, you keep an eye out for side effects or problems and make sure your relative takes them correctly. You probably also encourage your family member to eat a healthy diet and follow other doctor’s orders. Caregivers are the “eyes and ears” of the medical team for the person with dementia.

Unfortunately, caregivers don’t always remember to talk to their own physicians about themselves! In fact, many times the caregiver’s own doctor doesn’t realize that the person he or she is treating is a dementia caregiver. Because of this, caregivers are sometimes called “hidden” or “forgotten” patients. Although caregivers are at greater risk for a variety of health problems including sleep disturbances, high blood pressure, diabetes, and depression, they are also more likely than non-caregivers to skip their own medical appointments, to neglect taking medications, and to not take enough time to recover from illnesses. Studies have shown that the main reasons caregivers neglect their own health are that they feel they should be able to manage on their own, or that they don’t think they have time for medical visits for themselves. Sadly, in the worst-case scenario, caregivers may become so ill that they become unable to continue to take care of their loved ones.

Don’t let that happen to you! If you are caring for someone with dementia, be sure to let your own doctor know. Here are some suggestions to help you stay as healthy as possible:

Research has shown that when caregivers work closely with their doctors to manage their own levels of stress and health, their hospitalizations and emergency room visits are reduced, and persons with dementia are able to remain at home for a longer period of time. Taking care of yourself is not selfish – it’s essential to providing good care for your loved one and helps ensure that both of you can have a good quality of life for a longer period of time.


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