Helping the 100 million people living with chronic pain are an estimated 42.1 million caregivers, who in their supportive efforts are themselves at risk for injury leading to chronic pain, according to researchers at Ohio State University’s (OSU) Center for Clinical and Translational Science.
The research adds onto a body of knowledge that already shows caregivers are less likely to care for themselves by eating nutritional food and exercising, according to FamilyDoctor.org, the website of the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP).
The stress of being a caregiver can lead to increased risks for cancer, diabetes, anxiety disorders, and heart disease. When stress levels rise and time constraints grow, self-care can take a back seat to caring for a loved one. Fortunately, by making time for exercising and healthy eating, caregivers can avoid much of the health risks they face.
The impact of chronic pain is frequently discussed from the perspective of those experiencing it, couched in terms of diminished life satisfaction, lost job time, and increased medical bills. But OSU researchers interviewed 46 caregivers and discovered the true impact of chronic pain is much more far-reaching.
Chronic pain affects everybody—caregivers are at risk for becoming patients themselves, researchers discover.
Nearly all the caregivers studied—94%—experienced some form of musculoskeletal pain during the study, researchers found. The lower back was the most common area of complaint, affecting 76% of people—and knees, shoulders, and wrists each affected 43% of study participants.
At highest risk for becoming part of the chronic pain statistics are the 14 million “high-burden” caregivers, defined as those spending at least 21 hours per week supporting those living with chronic pain. High-burden caregivers’ efforts frequently leave them with nagging shoulder, knee, or back pain. The helpers become patients. Ohio State occupational therapist Amy Darragh says:
“Almost all of the caregivers who participated in our study said they experience significant musculoskeletal discomfort related to caregiving activities, and that this discomfort can interfere with their ability to provide care, work, and participate in life activities.”
In the study, 78% of caregivers said the pain prevented them from providing assistance and 66% said it affected their quality of life.
Chronic pain caregivers find repetitive tasks leave them open to injury, resulting in diminished capacity to provide care and enjoy their lives.
Depending on the severity of chronic pain people experience, they may need help with anything from walking to getting dressed in the morning. Caregivers are untrained for these tasks, leaving them at risk for injury if done repetitively with improper form.
Tasks identified by caregivers as most difficult included transferring chronic pain patients from one place to another, bathing, helping them use the bathroom, walking up or down stairs, or rising from falls. When not performed with the proper technique, these tasks may lead to back or joint strain, according to the study.
Researchers tell the story of 67-year-old Margie, who helps her husband eat meals, navigate into or out of bed, and pushes his wheelchair along the access ramp connected to their home. As a result, her back, shoulder, and knee continually bother her, leaving both Margie and her husband unable to care for each other. Darragh adds:
“Interestingly, professional caregivers report similar experiences, but they have access to both training and technology that help them reduce their risk of injury.”
Conversely, informally appointed caregivers lack access to this crucial support, leaving them open to injury. Researchers hope to continue researching the specific activities that most commonly lead to injury and then identify ways to help caregivers avoid pain.
Chronic pain caregivers, help is available to keep you healthy while caring for your loved ones.
Here are some ways caregivers can take care of themselves.
1. Get connected
Several organizations, national and local, are devoted to caregivers and helping them with their needs. Organizations offer training, ways to take care of yourself, and can give you a feeling of connectedness when you’re feeling down.
Caregiver.org hosts an online support group and educational webinars and a video archive focusing on topics such as bathing techniques to avoid injury. Caregiver Action Network also offers a repository of information designed to make life easier.
Locally, there is a list of caregiver support groups in Clark County, provided by Caregiver.com, a magazine covering issues of concern to the caregiver community.
2. Ask for help
If you try to do everything yourself, you’ll need help too before you know it. Asking a friend or family member to step in for a day so you can catch a movie or spend some time alone helps to keep your spirits high. If you don’t have any friends or family available to cover for you, consider respite care.
Respite care allows caregivers to take a break of several hours or longer to catch up on chores, exercise, or enjoy much-needed alone time. Costs for respite care vary, but are sometimes available on a sliding scale.
3. Take care of your health
Exercise for 30 minutes, four days each week at minimum, recommends AAFP. Exercising reduces stress, improves sleep quality, and supports health. Restful sleep is an important part of health. If caregiving demands make it difficult to sleep through the night, AAFP recommends napping when your loved one does.
Eating a balanced diet is also key, and healthy meals can be eaten with the person managing chronic pain. Keeping on top of physical exams and routine check-ups is also important to stay healthy and catch any health issues early.
4. Stay organized
Keep all doctors’ notes in a file and keep detailed records, including people you talk with on the phone regarding health care, OSU researchers recommend. List keeping and knowing where to find information and needed items helps cut down on stress and makes you feel more in control.
What impacts has caregiving for a chronic pain patient had on your life? How do you manage?
Image by British Red Cross via Flickr