September 22, 2021

Céline Dion tragedy spotlights caregiver health risks

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cbc5b581-47ab-40ba-aeb0-ffc123e5e36bBy Charlotte Libov From Newsmax

Superstar singer Céline Dion is unusual in that she is facing the death from cancer of both her husband and brother in virtually as many days this month.

But her situation is mirrored by millions of others who are dealing with the emotional stress of caring for a loved one who has cancer — and losing that person to the disease.

Dion faced a herculean task as the caregiver for her husband, René Angélil, who battled cancer for 17 years. (He was diagnosed in 1999 and the cancer returned in 2003). He died last Thursday at age 73. Two days later, Dion also lost her brother Daniel to cancer.

As Dion’s case illustrates, many people who are caregivers face tremendous emotional stress, as well as an increased risk for depression and anxiety. They can experience such emotions during the caregiving process as well as afterwards, if their loved one dies.

An estimated 44 million Americans are caregivers for family members, Gail Gibson Hunt, president and CEO at the National Alliance for Caregiving (NAC), tells Newsmax Health.

According to Hunt, the profile of the average caregiver is changing. Today’s caregiver, which is defined as someone who provides unpaid care for at least 21 years a week, has already been doing it for more than five years, and expects to continue for five years more.

In addition, nearly half of these caregivers report high emotional stress (46 percent) and, with an average income of $45,700, financial strain, as well.

“They are also more apt to report their health as fair or poor compared to the general population,” she notes.

Surveys show about half of caregivers say their health has gotten worse since they began providing for their loved ones. About two in three say they are apt to miss going to the doctor themselves because they put the other person’s needs first.

The NAC is currently compiling data on special problems that caregivers who deal with cancer patients may face.

“There may be emotional stresses in dealing with cancer because of the roller coaster of the different stages of cancer, including diagnosis, treatment, remission, and then what happens if the cancer returns,” she notes.

In light of these facts, here are five survival strategies for caregivers:

Take care of your physical health. About 67 percent of caregivers say they miss doctor’s appointments or don’t put their care first. Remember, you are no good to your loved one if you get sick.

Take some time off. Make sure you have someone who you can call in so you can spend a weekend, or even an afternoon, to yourself.

Don’t isolate yourself. It’s only human nature sometimes to withdraw from family and friends because your situation can feel overwhelming. Make sure that you stay in touch with people who care about you; don’t shut them out.

Eat right and exercise. When we’re dealing with a highly stressful situation, it’s always easier to just reach for anything to eat, and to put exercise on the backburner. But these are two factors that can help bolster your own physical and mental wellbeing.

Take care of yourself emotionally. Just as people with cancer are prone to depression, so are caregivers. Learn to recognize the signs of depression and if you are suffering from it seriously, get help.

A cancer death in the family also brings particularly stresses and difficulties. Here are five tips for dealing with the loss of a loved one from cancer.

  • Give yourself permission to feel pain and loss.  If depression persists, consider joining a bereavement support group or going to a grief counselor.  (The American Cancer Society has resources).
  • Be patient with yourself.  The grieving process has no automatic cut-off point.
  • Eat well, exercise, and avoid excess alcohol, which is a depressant.
  • Do something in memory of your loved one.  There are many types of ways you can do this, including participating in a Cancer walk or run in your loved one’s memories, seeking donations to help support research, or setting up some type of memorial.   Any gesture, big or small, helps.
  • Put off making major decisions if you can.   If you lost your spouse or a close loved one, your emotional state may cloud your decision making. This is often very difficult, as you suddenly may be faced with the need to make difficult decisions, some involving finances, so, if this is the case, seek help from trusted sources.

IMAGE: (Copyright AP)

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