It is becoming widely accepted that the health of the caregiver has a great deal to do with the health of the patient. If the caregiver is suffering from psychological or physical problems, then the quality of care given declines.
Now there’s a new study that expands that idea as reported in the June 2011 issue of “Health Psychology”, the American Psychological Association’s journal. The study looked at more than 1,700 couples ranging in age from 76 to 90. They found a strong correlation between what they describe as depressive symptoms and functional or physical limitations within the couples. Previous studies had found the linkage in individuals. This is the first time that it’s been shown to affect partners.
The problem is the “chicken or the egg” issue at its core: physical limitations such as not being able to shop for groceries and cook meals lead to depressive symptoms such as unhappiness, loneliness and restlessness. At the same time, depressive symptoms cause individuals to limit their physical activities. Which comes first? The answer doesn’t really matter if you’re a caregiver. What is important is the understanding that the physical and emotional state of one partner in a long-term relationship can affect the other partner as well.
“When people are depressed, they tend to want to stay at home—but that causes a spouse to stay home more too,” one of the researchers said. “That’s a problem, because when older adults stop being active—going for walks, socializing, shopping—they risk losing that functional ability. These findings help to illuminate the often vicious cycle between depressive symptoms and our physical abilities.”
If you’re a caregiver experiencing depressive symptoms because of limitations to your physical activity, take action! Find a way to get out for exercise and socialize on a regular basis. In addition to being a good way to relieve the effects of stress, you can now see how doing something social or active will help relieve those unhappy feelings that come about because of physical inactivity.
If you’re caring for your parents and see the cycle at work with them, take action! Find ways to get activity into your parents’ lives. This may mean a move to a retirement or assisted living community where there are lots of social and physical activities, or it may mean that you’ll have to devise a plan for getting your folks out more often to shop, to exercise, to go to dinner or a movie.
In either case, the solution requires action on the part of the caregiver. The cycle won’t break itself—it’s up to you.