When You Are the Caregiver
Take Care of Yourself...
Caring for your aging family member, friend, or loved one is a big responsibility. In addition to balancing the normal everyday demands that life throws at you, you also have to see that the needs of your loved one are being met. Over time these demands can take their toll on you emotionally, mentally, and physically.
Studies show that caregivers spends on average over 35 hours a week caring for their loves ones, with 32% of caregivers providing care for more than five years. Caregivers surveyed reported cutting back on leisure activities, an increase in stress or anxiety, difficulty sleeping, and worsening personal health problems.
Taking care of yourself is an important part of caring for others. Neglecting your own needs will make it harder for you to be ready when your loved one needs your help.
Follow these steps...
Step 1: Know the Signs of Caregiver Stress
Your body will send out physical, emotional, and behavioral warning signs when the stress of caregiving is starting to take its toll on you. Watch for:
- Outbursts or feelings of anger or irritability
- Frequent mood swings
- Social withdrawal
- Difficulty concentrating or focusing on tasks
- Exhaustion or chronic fatigue
- Weight gain or losses
- Physical warning signs, such as headaches, back pain, or neck pain
- Health problems
Step 2: Take Care of Yourself
Take care of your personal health and wellbeing by watching your diet, exercise, and getting plenty of rest. Make time leisure activities, such as lunch with friends, shopping, or going golfing. Whatever you enjoy, make time for it. Talk to your doctor if you begin to feel the physical or emotional effects of caregiver stress.
Relaxation techniques can help you manage your stress level. Try these suggestions from WebMD.com:
- Two-minute relaxation. Switch your thoughts to yourself and your breathing. Take a few deep breaths, exhaling slowly. Mentally scan your body. Notice areas that feel tense or cramped. Quickly loosen up these areas. Let go of as much tension as you can. Rotate your head in a smooth, circular motion once or twice. (Stop any movements that cause pain.) Roll your shoulders forward and backward several times. Let all of your muscles completely relax. Recall a pleasant thought for a few seconds. Take another deep breath and exhale slowly. You should feel relaxed.
- Mind relaxation. Close your eyes. Breathe normally through your nose. As you exhale, silently say to yourself the word "one," a short word such as "peaceful," or a short phrase such as "I feel quiet." Continue for 10 minutes. If your mind wanders, gently remind yourself to think about your breathing and your chosen word or phrase. Let your breathing become slow and steady. Deep breathing relaxation. Imagine a spot just below your navel. Breathe into that spot, and fill your abdomen with air. Let the air fill you from the abdomen up, then let it out, like deflating a balloon. With every long, slow breath out, you should feel more relaxed.
- Being realistic and accepting changes as the come up is also important. Older adults, particularly those with Alzheimer's disease or other forms of dementia change and so do their needs. Set realistic goals and expectations for yourself and your loved one, and don't be afraid to ask for help when you need it.
Step 3: You Are Not Alone
Be aware of the resources that are available in your community. In home care, senior living communities, home health, and hospice are just a few of the professional options available. You can also turn to family, friends, church groups, and local senior centers for support.