As a family caregiver, whether you chose the role or had it thrust upon you by circumstances, you know that taking care of an elderly loved one with memory or mobility issues can be exhausting and stressful. Often caregivers fail to care for themselves, for various reasons.
But when you fail to care for yourself, you risk not only your own health and well-being but you may reach a point where you no can longer can provide quality care for your loved one. Here are some tips for taking care of yourself and stay well. This is adapted from the New York Times column by Jane Brody dated November 17, 2008, entitled “Caring for Family, Caring for Yourself.” Here are 10 tips to keep in mind:
- Take a break every day. Find some down time to relax, whether it’s reading a book, watching television, or calling a friend. Make sure you do at least one thing to pamper yourself every day.
- Get out of the house or have people over every week. If someone can fill in for you, or if your loved one is safe for a brief time, get out of the house for an afternoon or evening to do something you want: such as going to the movies, having dinner with friends, or church choir. If getting out of the house isn’t an option, perhaps you could have people come into the home to talk, knit, work on a jigsaw puzzle or whatever you enjoy.
- Plan ahead for respite care. If its possible to hire someone or another family member can take over, you can get a longer time away, perhaps a weekend or a week to recharge. Many assisted living facilities and nursing homes will offer respite care while you take time away.
- Exercise regularly. This keeps you healthier and reduces your stress level. If you can’t to leave the house to walk, run or to workout at a gym, you could buy or rent a stationary bicycle or other exercise equipment.
- Eat well. Have nutritious snacks, drinks and food for meal preparation in the house. Consider making larger quantities to freeze to reduce the time required and to always have something on hand even when you’re just too tired to prepare a meal.
- Get your sleep. Skimping on sleep adds to anxiety and zaps your health over time. If your loved one is keeping you awake at night, try to fit in naps when he or she does.
- Continue your medical care. Make sure to get your flu shot, and maintain your regular medical and dental checkups. Watch for depression, too and make sure that you’re honest with your physician about how you feel.
- Find a support group. If you can’t leave the home to attend, perhaps they could meet at your home, or in any case you could joing a group online. Many people have had similar experiences and you’ll feel like you’re not alone. Here are two suggestions, and many more are available: the Caregiver Action Network (www.caregiveraction.org), and the Family Caregiver Alliance and its online support group (www.caregiver.org). Be sure to learn from others what types of care and resources are available in your community.
- Consult with an elder law attorney. In order to access many of the programs recommended by the geriatric care manager, your loved one will have to qualify financially. An elder law attorney can help you qualify for these benefits. In addition, make sure you don’t get hit with a double financial whammy of losing years of earnings while you’re caring for your family member and losing his or her assets due to squabbles with other family members or Medicaid estate recovery. Also, you may be entitled to some pay by the state for the care you are providing. To locate a qualified elder law attorney near you, click here.
Remember you could be providing care for a long time. Pace yourself and understand your own limitations and needs. You won’t do your loved one any good if you have a stroke or heart attack and wind up in a hospital unable to help yourself, much less your loved one.