Caregivers must safeguard their own health to help others

Caring for a loved one with a serious medical condition can be overwhelming at times, especially with other obligations at work and home. So, it’s important for caregivers to remember to tend to their own physical and emotional health needs, too.

An informal caregiver, who often is an unpaid family member or friend helping a relative or someone with an ongoing illness, is a role that’s expected to expand in the years to come as the baby-boom generation ages. In the United States, the cost of caregiving for those with heart disease and stroke is projected to increase from $61 billion in 2015 to $128 billion by 2035. As this happens, more Americans will need coping strategies.

“It’s a time thing,” said Dr. Barry London, the internal medicine chair at the University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine. “It can expand to really consume your life.”

Make sure others are available to help so the caregiver gets some relief and avoids exhaustion.

Those who are in the caregiver role all the time, every day of the year, such as a spouse, may become particularly isolated from an outside life and face the most pressure. A spouse, London said, is present and invested in helping the patient, which can be trying for the caregiver but also good for the patient.

A study in the Journal of the American Heart Association found that when patients received a heartpumping device known as left ventricular assist device, or LVAD, the patients reported a dramatically improved quality of life, while their caregivers initially suffered additional stress.

“There’s no easy end in sight a lot of times” for the caregiver, London said. “There’s a period of, ‘Oh my God, what have I gotten myself into?’”

When a caregiver must operate or oversee medical equipment there’s added worry about something going wrong, possibly even resulting in the patient dying, London said. The more a caregiver can learn about the medical condition, the more confident he or she can feel in assisting.

A survey from the nonprofit foundation Transamerica Institute of more than 3,000 non-professional caregivers in 2017 found that 55 percent of caregivers said their own health took a back seat to the health of the recipient.

Caregivers spent a median of 50 hours per month caring for someone, and 36 percent of caregivers spent 100 or more hours per month, according to the Transamerica Institute survey. More than half were also employed full time, and most of those had to make some type of adjustment at work because of caregiving duties.

But finding time to take breaks is important, London said. Dedicate time during the day or week to exercise or find something else that’s fun to do with the limited time available. And maintain outside relationships so the role doesn’t become a “social drain,” he said.

Eating nutritiously, getting enough sleep and receiving regular medical checkups are all important. Caregivers also should pay attention to warning signs of depression and talk to health care providers if they need mental health help.

Organizations including AARP, the American Heart Association and the National Alliance for Caregiving offer useful caregiver information, including tips about medical conditions, legal documents and health.

The help is out there informally, in the form of nurses and others who interact with patients, but London believes more should be done in the future to formally support the needs of caregivers.

He also emphasized the importance of the rapport between the caregiver and the care recipient.

“The better the relationship between the patient and the caregiver,” he said, “the better it is for both of them.”

This information is provided as a resource to our readers. The tips, products or resources listed or linked to have not been reviewed or endorsed by the American Stroke Association.

Stroke Connection. Get the app for free.


- Advertisement -

This link is provided for convenience only and is not an endorsement or recommendation of either the linked-to entity or any product or service.

AD. Amramp Making Life Accessible. 20 years. Be accessible to everyone. Protect your clients & their caregivers from slip and fall accidents. 888-715-7599. Click here for more info.

AD: American Stroke Association-American Heart Association logo. Did you know that about 1 in 4 stroke survivors have a second stroke? Learn more.


Ad: American Heart Association logo. American Diabetes Associaiton logo. Know diabetes by heart logo. Living with diabetes? Inspire others. Submit story button.


AD. American Heart Association logo. Know your blood pressure numbers. And what they mean. Gain Control.  Learn more.


Ad: American Heart Association Support Network. Facing recovery after a stroke or heart disease diagnosis can be overwhelming. You are not alone. Our community is here for you. Join us today.


Edit ModuleShow Tags

Stroke Rehabilitation

Making the Best Decisions at Discharge After Stroke

The type of rehabilitation and support systems a survivor receives at discharge can strongly influence health outcomes and recovery. In this, the first part of a two-part series on stroke rehab, we offer guidance for the decision-making process required when it’s time to leave the hospital.

What to Expect from Outpatient Rehab

After stroke, about two-thirds of survivors receive some type of rehabilitation. Outpatient therapy may consist of Several types of therapy. Whether a patient is referred to inpatient or outpatient therapy depends on the level of medical care required.

What to Expect in Stroke Rehab

Following a stroke, about two-thirds of survivors receive some type rehabilitation. In this second of our two-part series, we want to alleviate some of the mystery, fear and anxiety around the inpatient rehab part of the stroke recovery journey.
Edit ModuleShow Tags Edit ModuleShow Tags

AHA-ASA Resources

The Support Network

When faced with challenges recovering from heart disease or stroke, it’s important to have emotional support. That is why we created a network to connect patients and loved ones with others during their journey.

Caregiver Guide to Stroke

The Caregiver Guide to Stroke is meant to help caregivers better navigate the recovery process and the financial and social implications of a stroke.

Stroke Support Group Finder

To find a group near you, simply enter your ZIP code and a mile radius. If your initial search does not pull up any groups, try

Tips for Daily Living Library

This volunteer-powered library gathers tips and ideas from stroke survivors, caregivers and healthcare professionals all over the country who’ve created or discovered adaptive and often innovative ways to get things done!

Stroke Family Warmline

The Warmline connects stroke survivors and their families with an ASA team member who can provide support, helpful information or just a listening ear.

Let's Talk About Stroke Patient Information Sheets

Let's Talk About Stroke is a series of downloadable patient information sheets, created by the American Stroke Association, that presents information in a question-and-answer format that's brief, easy to follow and easy to read.

Request Free Stroke Information Packets

Fill out this online form to request free information about a variety of post-stroke topics.
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Stroke & Parts of the Brain

When Stroke Affects the Occipital Lobe

Our occipital lobe, the smallest of the four lobes of the cerebral cortex, controls how we visually interpret our world.

When Stroke Affects the Cerebellum

The cerebellum contains 80 percent of our neurons. Its job seems to be to make things better. We talked with neuroscientist Jeremy Schmahmann about how stroke affects the “little brain.”

When Stroke Affects the Parietal Lobe

The parietal lobe helps us make sense of sensory information, like where our bodies and body parts are in space, our sense of touch, and the part of our vision that deals with the location of objects.

When Stroke Affects the Frontal Lobe

Of the four lobes that make up the cerebral cortex, the frontal lobe is the largest. It plays a huge role in many of the functions that make us human — memory, language, movement, judgment, abstract thinking.

When Stroke Affects the Temporal Lobe

The temporal lobe has several functions, mainly involved with memory, perception and language.

When Stroke Affects the Brain Stem

The brain stem serves as a bridge in the nervous system. It sits at the top of the spinal column in the center of the brain. When a stroke happens there, it can cause a few different deficits and, in the most severe cases, can lead to locked-in syndrome.

When Stroke Affects the Thalamus

The thalamus can be thought of as a "relay station," receiving signals from the brain’s outer regions (cerebral cortex), interpreting them, then sending them to other areas of the brain to complete their job.
Edit ModuleShow Tags


Stroke Notes

Stroke-related news you can use about new scientific findings, public policy, programs and resources.

Readers Room

Articles, poems and art submitted by stroke survivors and their loved ones.

Life Is Why

Everyone has a reason to live a longer, healthier life. These stroke survivors, caregivers and others share their 'whys'. We'd love for you to share yours, too!

Everyday Survival

Practical tips and advice for day-to day living after stroke.

Life At The Curb

A unique perspective on survival by comedian and stroke survivor John Kawie.

Simple Cooking

Cooking at home can be a daunting task, but a rewarding one for your diet and lifestyle (and your wallet). Making small changes in your diet is important to your heart health. Here are simple, healthy and affordable recipes and cooking tips.

Helping Others Understand

Stroke affects people differently and many of the effects of stroke can be complicated. Helping friends and family understand how a stroke is affecting a survivor can help everyone involved.

Support Showcase

Our new department highlighting the good work being done by stroke support groups from around the nation. If you are part of a successful support group we should consider featuring, let us know!