Recently, someone asked me what medications I was on. “Umm…wait. I can tell you my son’s medications and my mother’s too. Gee, I can’t think of my own!” That’s the typical response of a long-term caregiver. We are so busy caring for others, we forget to look after ourselves. Well, we need to change that for own good AND that of our loved ones. Guest blogger Jeff Anderson tells us how.
Taking Care Of Yourself As A Long-Term Caregiver
Caregivers think about nothing more than how to best care for their loved ones, and more often than not entirely forget about their own wellbeing. They often juggle a huge number of tasks, running both their household as well as that of the care recipient, and holding down a job while dealing constantly dealing with life’s little and big emergencies.
That workload combined with emotional and psychological toll that comes with watching a family member suffer has a powerful impact on the health of the caregiver. One of most cited reasons for placing loved ones into care homes is the declining health of the primary caregiver. In order to continue to be there for your loved ones, then, it is very important to protect your own health.
There are a vast number of people in a situation similar to yours. The 15 million non-professional caregivers in the US provide 17 billion hours of unpaid care to their spouses, parents, grandparents, and siblings with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. Many caregivers suffer from feelings of isolation and excessive stress, not only from the amount of work, but also from the emotional strain of trying to help someone who may not even want, or understand that they need, help. Joining a group of people who really understand your situation can be a huge help psychologically and practically.
Caregivers are much more likely than non-caregivers to suffer from depression and anxiety issues. The idea that you might need counseling sounds off-putting to many of us because of the stigma that comes with the idea, but don’t let that stop you. Counseling can not only improve your own emotional state and give you someone who will keep an eye out for you, but it can make you a better caregiver by providing you with another perspective and professional feedback on your specific situation.
As a caregiver you probably spend more time in a doctor’s office than you’d like, but when was the last time that you sat on the examination table? 72% of caregivers report that they don’t go to the doctor as often as they should and twice as many caregivers as non-caregivers fail to fill out prescriptions due to the cost. Get to your doctor and make sure that you’re physically healthy, and get the help you need for any issues you may have. Simply ignoring possible problems will not make them go away and can eventually interfere with your ability to continue to provide care for your loved one.
Caregivers have higher stress levels, a higher risk of heart disease and diabetes, and a higher mortality rate than non-caregivers. Beside the issues we mentioned earlier, this is also result of the lack of time that caregivers have to exercise and pursue their own hobbies. Make the time to go out and exercise, and if your care recipient is able then take them along and relieve some of that stress. Both of you can benefit greatly.
Many of the health problems caregivers face are a direct result of the sheer volume of work that they have to do, and at the end of the day the only way to make it possible to take care of yourself is to reduce that volume. Get help! Share the load with friends, other family members, or hire someone to give you the time you need to take care of yourself. Many senior communities also offer respite care. While this feels like we’re somehow letting out loved one down, it’s what will ultimately enable you to provide the best care possible to your loved one the longest.
Jeff Anderson writes for assistedliving.com about elder care, caregiving, and dementia issues.