Physical Health for Transplant Caregivers
As a transplant caregiver, it is not uncommon to find yourself back and forth to the doctor or hospital, in and out of the pharmacy, or constantly talking on the phone with the insurance provider – but never for yourself. It seems as a transplant caregiver you spend more time talking with or in the office of the transplant patient’s doctors, pharmacists, and insurance companies, rather than your own. This is typical of most caregivers, which is why many caregivers end up having their own health problems due to neglecting their own needs while caring for the needs of the transplant patient. Through preventative care, identifying and treating caregiver fatigue, and good nutrition and exercise, you may be able to avoid some health issues, which will keep you healthy as well as allow you to provide better care to the patient.
How could providing care for someone else be the cause of health problems?
- Caregivers often neglect their own physical and mental well-being to support the needs of the patient or the rest of the family.
- Caregivers tend to miss their doctor’s appointments or neglect visiting a doctor at all.
- Caregivers are less likely to have adequate health insurance than non-caregivers therefore are less likely to get medical treatment when needed.
Much research shows that being a caregiver can cause high levels of stress which can lead to health problems. It is important to not only address health issues as they arise, but also try to prevent health issues from ever occurring. Sometimes finding the time to go to the doctor’s can be difficult but it is important to try to get to your doctor annually or more frequently if you are having an issue, as well as maintain good nutrition, adequate exercise, and good emotional health. By combining all of these positive practices together, it may assist in preventing physical health issues from occurring.
Caregivers are more likely to skip doctors’ appointments or not make appointments at all, leading to less preventative care and increasing the risk for illness. Did you know that many illnesses or diseases can be prevented by receiving preventative care? It is suggested that women see their OB-GYN annually and after a certain age begin to have annual mammograms. It is also suggested men see their doctors regularly as well. This is important to catch medical issues early so they can be successfully treated. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) provides check lists for preventative care for men and women; they are good examples of what caregivers may want to be aware of as aging occurs.
Some individuals avoid going to the doctor regularly because they feel that if there was something wrong they would have visible symptoms of the issue. Not all health issues show symptoms right away or even at all. For instance, high blood pressure many times has no visible symptoms at all, but without treatment can be very detrimental to one’s health. Because symptoms are not always evident in all health issues, it is important to try to visit your doctor either annually, or as recommended by your physician.
Caregivers tend to suffer from fatigue, which over time can result in health issues. These symptoms can include increased or decreased eating which can lead to weight gain or weight loss, frequent infections, increased usage of drugs or alcohol, inability to focus, and increased sensitivity to pain. Lack of sleep also hinders the body’s ability to regulate insulin production and the metabolism of sugar, putting caregivers at an increased risk of developing diabetes.
Some ways to combat fatigue are simply to recognize and be aware that you are fatigued. Caregiving can be a very tiring job and can sometimes be a 24-hour job. It is important to realize that long-term fatigue could put you at risk for health problems, not allowing you to care for your loved one or even yourself. Though difficult, it is very important to get adequate, regular and consistent amounts of sleep each night. Hired help or respite care may be an option for assistance. For instance, some people are able to use respite care a few times a week for a few hours, just to get some extra sleep. You could also ask a friend or family member to take over care one night a week to give you the chance to rest without interruptions. Other ways to avoid fatigue are:
- Eat a healthy, well-balanced diet and drink plenty of water throughout the day
- Exercise regularly
- Try more effective relaxation methods such as deep breathing or yoga
- Maintain a reasonable work and personal schedule
- Learn to manage stress better through seminars or classes
- Take a multivitamin with consultation from your primary doctor
- Avoid alcohol, nicotine, and drug use
Exercise and Nutrition
Most people understand that good nutrition and adequate exercise can help prevent many diseases such as obesity, heart disease and maybe even cancer. Good nutrition and exercise is one way to stay healthy as a transplant caregiver. It is also a way to encourage the patient to stick to their diet and exercise plan, which is important for a healthy transplant. Many people do not know that good health and nutrition can even lead to a positive mood.
Many studies have shown that with an increase of exercise there has been a decrease in depression. Large populations of depressed individuals are less likely to be physically active because of their depression. The hardest step towards better nutrition and physical activity may be just motivating yourself to do it. Once you develop a routine it may become easier and may be even necessary in your daily life.
You might be thinking “what does exercise have to do with depression?” There are many studies that show that adequate exercise can increase mood and lessen depression.
Many people argue that exercise and good nutrition improve mood, whether that be through self-esteem, biological or physiological reactions due to exercise. Some even argue that exercise can have almost the same effect as standard treatments of depression, such as therapy or antidepressants.
Exercise and good nutrition is good for overall well-being and good health, and may improve mood at the same time; therefore, it is worth incorporating into daily life. Weight gain can be detrimental to many different parts of your life, including your self-esteem and health. If your self-esteem and health decrease due to weight gain, then your ability to be a good caregiver may also decline due to your own medical issues and/or depression.
One study by Roth and Holmes (1985) found that individuals with lower levels of physical fitness who experienced high stress were also more likely to experience more symptoms of depression, and those who had higher levels of physical fitness and higher stress levels experienced less symptoms of depression. This study helps indicate that with the addition of physical fitness to one’s life, depression can be less likely when dealing with highly stressful events.
Taylor et al (1985) proposes that the psychological benefits of exercise are very positive, and can assist in decreasing: alcohol abuse, absenteeism at work, anger, anxiety, confusion, depression, headaches, hostility, phobias, stress, tension and work errors. Furthermore exercise can assist in showing an increase in: academic performance, confidence, emotional stability, independence, intellectual functioning, memory, mood, perception, positive body image and well-being.
Depression many times can cause insomnia and sleep disturbances, which can be extremely detrimental to one’s health as well as day-to-day lifestyle. However some studies even show exercise can help with depression and sleep disturbances or insomnia. King et al (1997) found that exercise improved sleep disturbances in men and women ages 50-76. Likewise Singh et al (1997) found that after a 10-week exercise program of weight training three times per week, men and women significantly improved in their sleep quality and depression measure.
It is also important to recognize that for exercise programs to be successful with the hopes of positive psychological outcomes, exercise must be enjoyable and manageable. For instance, consider exercising with a group of friends or joining exercise classes. The exercise regimen must also be incorporated into one’s life reasonably, and not as an additional task that seems impossible to complete. Without manageable, enjoyable exercise programs, it is more likely that the exercise program will fail, which could lead to negative psychological effects.
It is very important to always talk with your doctor when starting a new exercise plan.
You can speak to the transplant dietician to get some quick tips on good health and exercise, though because you are not the patient, they may not be able to assist you fully. However, the dietician may be able to refer you to another organization or dietician who you could seek support through.