World Mental Health Day: Importance of mental health of caregivers for elderly people

Published on:10 October 2021, 07:30am IST
Caregiving for an elderly parent or person is much harder than you think. It can take a massive toll on your mental health. Here’s how to deal with it.
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Caregivers need to pay attention to their mental health. Image courtesy: Shutterstock
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As a person grows older, the functioning of their physiological systems starts declining. Moreover, their immune system also weakens. The level of independence reduces and the need for assistance increases gradually. 

India is among the many Asian countries, where children take care of their old parents or grandparents. The duties range from assisting them with housing and financial needs to taking care of their health by helping them with doctor consultations, follow-ups and medication management. 

World mental health day
Mental health problems in the elderly are far more prevalent than we realise. Image Courtesy: Shutterstock

Caregiving is a demanding job. Taking care of older adults at home needs one to be alert towards their physiological and emotional needs. Therefore, family caregivers face considerable stress and develop certain coping strategies. Unhealthy coping strategies may further lead to an increase in the caregiver burden rather than alleviating distress. This can adversely affect the caregiving function. 

What is mental health?

The World Health Organization (WHO) defines mental health as “a state of well-being in which an individual realizes his or her abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and is able to contribute to his or her community”. 

Caregiving for the elderly may lead to prolonged distress and affect caregiver mental health. It is important to understand that keeping oneself emotionally healthy is necessary, when providing care to older members of the family. 

Also, read: International Day for Elderly: Tackle your elders’ anxiety issue with care

Why is it important for caregivers to take care of their mental health? It is important because of two main reasons:

1. Benefits for oneself: Studies indicate that physical and mental health has a significant relationship. Chronic illnesses such as heart or pulmonary issues may lead to psychological and behavioural problems. On the other hand, prolonged stress makes a person more prone to cardiovascular diseases. It is most commonly observed that caregivers don’t pay much attention to their own physical and emotional health. It might be because of the demands of the situation or because they are not focused on their well-being. Taking care of one’s emotional state is important to reduce the risk of physical and psychological illnesses.

World mental health day
Health is wealth! Image courtesy: Shutterstock

2. Benefits for the care recipient: Psychological disturbance may reduce the quality of caregiving and adversely affect the older family members. A caregiver who is not mentally fit may show behavioural disturbance as well. They might become more emotionally sensitive, more prone to lashing out or even get increasingly anxious. The overall environment at home may become difficult to bear for everyone involved. Being emotionally healthy, on the other hand, increases one’s productivity and effectiveness as a caregiver. It also positively affects the care recipient’s health and general wellbeing. 

What are the ways in which caregivers can take care of their mental health?

1. Maintain physical health: Emotional wellness is closely associated with physical health. Being a caregiver may get physically exhausting at times. It is, therefore, essential to take care of one’s body. Eating nutritious food at regular intervals, maintaining a fixed sleep-wake cycle and engaging in some form of exercise is necessary. Caregivers should also go for regular health screenings and medical check-ups to maintain their health. 

Also, read: Your surroundings matter for your mental health! Use these 4 ways to optimize your space

2. Take breaks/ rest/ relax: Caregiving is not only physically exhausting but mentally taxing as well. Caregivers are often at a higher risk of getting burnt out as it is a 24*7 job. Taking out some “me” time every day provides much-needed respite. This time could be utilized by resting, engaging in hobbies, meditation or anything which lifts the spirits.

World mental health day
Listening to music has tonnes of benefits of your elderly parents. Image courtesy: Shutterstock

3. Develop a positive outlook: Negative thoughts often creep in unexpectedly when one is providing care. These thoughts might be about oneself, the care recipient or even the future. These thoughts are instrumental in increasing the stress levels in a caregiver and may lead to further psychological disturbance. Looking at the brighter side of things and being more appreciative towards oneself are found to help combat negative thoughts.

4. External support: It is important to understand that caregiving is not easy, especially when the care recipient is dependent on activities of daily living. One must be mindful that sometimes assistance is required. Seeking social support to cope with stress has been found to be effective. Having a support system consisting of friends and family can have a tremendous impact on one’s emotional wellbeing. Watch out for paid services to assist in taking care of your loved ones.

Dr Jayashree Dasgupta Dr Jayashree Dasgupta

Dr Jayashree Dasgupta, Co-Founder and Project Director, Samvedna Senior Care. She is a clinical psychologist with a specialization in neuropsychology, Dr. Jayashree holds MPhil, PhD degrees from the National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences (NIMHANS). She has over 15 years of clinical experience working with children and adults facing mental health issues. She has been the recipient of International Fellowships and Research Grants and has published papers in National and International peer reviewed journals.