February: A month to reflect on love and relationships

February is the month of love and relationships.

To celebrate, we’d like to reflect on how relationships affect our health. Our hearts metaphorically flourish when we are surrounded by people we love and with whom we exchange warm touches, kind words, and demonstrations of caring. On the other hand, our hearts and cardiovascular health are harmed by low levels of social and emotional support, as well as stressful relationships (e.g., feeling criticized or ignored). Additionally, research shows that those who perceive having less social support are at increased risk for depression, poor immune function, and even death.

Unfortunately, some caregivers to family members and friends living with dementia are at an increased risk for diminished social support. Care partners can feel alone following a diagnosis, like those around them don’t understand what they are going through. Even without COVID-19 social distancing precautions, families affected by dementia may have more difficulty leaving the home to see others due to functional impairments or behavioral symptoms that often accompany dementia. Family caregivers may also experience reduced support from their care partner due to difficulties in communication, loss of memory, and other cognitive changes.

Preliminary data from our ongoing Daily Study of Caregiving Relationships and Health has revealed significant connections between social support, loneliness, and health among spousal care partners to persons living with dementia. For example, early findings show that on days when caregivers felt lonely at least some of the time, they reported more frequent adverse health symptoms, like headache, backache, flu-like symptoms, gastrointestinal issues, and fatigue. Additionally, participants reported poorer sleep quality on days when they were lonely at least some of the time. Alternatively, they reported better sleep quality on days when they received emotional support from any source or on days when they indicated their spouse appreciated them “a lot” versus “not at all.” (To learn more about this study and to find out if you are eligible to participate, please email meyerk1@uthscsa.edu or click on this link: https://utcaregivers.org/caregiver-daily-study/).

While we at Caring for the Caregiver continue to conduct studies on how social support and relationships affect health and how to improve social support for caregivers, we also offer several programs that may help. For example, our monthly SA Amigos Memory Café offers an opportunity to engage in fun social activities with families living with dementia. In addition, our monthly Essentials of Caregiving and Learning Skills Together programs provide an opportunity for families affected by dementia to learn with other families. We may still be socially distancing, but we at Caring for the Caregiver are here for you still online and are always just a call away. You can find more information about our monthly events on our website at  https://utcaregivers.org/events

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