You can’t take care of others if you aren’t taking care of yourself first. But the day-to-day responsibilities of caring for someone with a cognitive impairment like dementia takes its toll.
And there is science that backs that up. Penn State University measured the effects of caregiver stress on health in its Daily Stress and Health Study of Family Caregivers (DaSH). Their research found that caregivers overproduce cortisol — the stress hormone. That is no surprise given that those responsible for an adult with dementia spend upwards of two hours a day in highly stressful situations tending to daily care needs.
It’s alarming, however, because too much production of cortisol can lead to tissue damage, immune system changes, and increased risk of illness. But there are options for keeping cortisol in check in order to improve caregiver health and well-being.
Using Adult Day Care Makes Caregivers Healthier
The DaSH study found that caregivers who use Adult Day Care services enjoy more normal cortisol rhythms. Further, the service restores their DHEA-S levels — otherwise known as the “happy hormone.”
As such, dementia caregivers using Adult Day Care services experience less stress, anger, and a better overall mood. In the words of DaSH study Principal Investigator Dr. Steven Zarit, “We know that the stress caregivers experience puts them at risk for illness, but the changes we found in these two stress hormones when their relatives go to Adult Day Services reduces that risk.”
Don’t Forget the Basics for Stress Reduction
So, it’s scientifically proven that Adult Day Care helps caregivers balance their cortisol and DHEA-S hormone levels. But remember, there are some well-known basics that also improve mood and healthy hormone production:
- Fresh Air and Exercise: Exercise can be as simple as parking your car a bit further away than usual, or using the stairs instead of an elevator. Incorporating exercise into your day is proven to boost endorphins, increase self-confidence, and improve concentration, according to the Mayo Clinic.
- Socializing and Support: According to psychologist Barry J. Jacobs, “Decades of research show that social support helps people cope. Caregivers often can’t speak openly with family members about emotional reactions, and a support group provides a relative degree of anonymity.” Fairfax County has support groups for caregivers at each of its Adult Day Health Care centers.
- Proper Diet: Caregivers tending to dementia patients are prone to disruptive sleep, in addition to overall tiredness from stress. A proper diet will not give you sleep back, but it will help boost your energy throughout the day. Trade caffeinated beverages for water to stay hydrated, and choose nuts, fruit, veggies, whole grains and healthy fats over convenience foods.
Come see what Fairfax County’s Adult Day Health Care Centers are all about. We offer services for adults with dementia, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and other cognitive and physical impairments. It enables your loved one to age in place and both of you enjoy scientifically-proven health benefits. Contact us today and join us for lunch!
Sources: DaSH Study, Penn State University, 2013; Mayo Clinic, “Exercise and Stress, Get Moving to Manage Stress”; AARP, “Caregiver Support Groups Offer Valuable Help”; Healthline, “Top 10 Energy-Boosting Foods”