Being a caregiver for a loved one can be rewarding, but it can also have moments of difficulty and stress. As the number of caregivers increases, it’s important to recognize these challenges and identify ways to support this crucial role with resources to meet their needs.
By the numbers
The number of caregivers increased from 18% in 2015 to 21% in 2020 — with the COVID-19 pandemic potentially heightening stress levels for some caregivers.
In a 2020 survey of caregivers by AARP and the National Alliance on Caregiving:
- 21% of caregivers rated their own health as fair or poor
- 23% say caregiving has made their own health worse
- 21% say they feel alone in their journey
There are many ways to support caregivers, both logistically and emotionally. A recent study by UnitedHealthcare, Optum Labs and AARP Services Inc. explores how “protective factors” such as resilience, purpose in life and social connections can help with the mental health of those who care for others.
The study found that as “protective factors” increased, depression decreased and quality of life increased.
So, what are these “protective factors?” These are positive aspects and resources that can bolster caregivers’ well-being. In the study, these included:
- High resilience (in other words, being adaptable and coping with life’s challenges)
- High purpose-in-life (in other words, what gets you up in the morning)
- Diverse social connections (the value of a network of friends and others for support and help)
When protective factors are in place, the study found three things in particular that were impacted:
1. Loneliness and depression. Loneliness may be an early indicator of the negative impacts of care-related stress, including depression. And those with protective factors were much less likely to feel lonely.
2. Perceptions of aging. Protective factors also can indicate a dramatic increase in one’s positive feelings on aging.
3. Emergency room use. Caregivers that had one or more protective factors used emergency room services 35% less than those without protective factors.
“Caregiver mental health could benefit from changing our focus from the negatives of caregiver burden to the positives of personal protective factors, such as resilience and purpose, that can help to buffer the adverse effects of care-related stress,” said Shirley Musich, Senior Research Director at OptumInsight and one of the co-authors of the study.
Caregiving is not always easy and no two caregivers have the exact same experience. Caregivers could benefit from support systems that can help foster these protective factors; even developing one of the three protective factors can have a major impact on overall well-being. Programs that encourage opportunities for mindfulness, physical activity and caregiver workshops can help provide the support systems that help caregivers adapt to the everchanging daily demands.
With a sense of resilience, purpose, and diverse social connections, caregivers may be able to remain happier and healthier.
To find more helpful resources for caregivers, visit uhc.com/caregiving.