According to a 2006 study by the National Alliance for Caregiving and AARP, over 44 million adults in the United States act as the primary caregiver for an aged or ailing loved one.
Unfortunately, as they provide care for their family or friends, they often forget to take proper care of themselves. All of the caregivers who participated in the study reported that they experienced at least a small decline in their own health as a result of their caregiving responsibilities.
Caregiving, the report showed, increased the physical and mental stress placed on the caregiver, leading to:
- sleeplessness and loss of energy
- headaches, muscle pain, and other bodily aches
- indigestion and acid reflux
- raised blood pressure
- flare-ups of arthritis or other conditions
- panic attacks and heart attack scares
- fluctuations in weight
Many caregivers get burned out when they try to take on too many responsibilities, knowing when to stop and when to ask for help can be powerful tools for caregivers that can help improve the quality of care you provide for your loved one.
Set limits for yourself.
You can’t take care of a loved one if you aren’t able to take care of yourself, so be realistic about the time and energy you can devote to caregiving. Keeping yourself happy and healthy is a necessary step in the caregiving process.
- Take time to relax every day. Learn how to stop when you start to feel overwhelmed. Don’t be afraid to give yourself an extended break at least once a week so that you can enjoy activities that help you unwind and manage the stress of caregiving—whether that’s a regular spa day or a trip to the ball park.
- Stay social. We humans are social creatures, and our mental wellness is profoundly impacted by our relationships to others. It’s easy to begin feeling isolated and depressed when we don’t have healthy relationships to fall back on. Supportive relationships can be powerful tools for caregivers, so make it a priority to catch up with friends and family every day, even if it’s just a chat on the phone.
- Maintain balance in your life. Caregiving can take up a lot of your time, but it doesn’t have to take over your life. You can still keep up all of the activities that are important to you when you take advantage of senior services and technologies that allow your loved one to be as independent as possible.
- Exercise regularly. You don’t have to get down to the gym every day, but getting in about 30 minutes of physical activity, three times a week can help you manage stress and keep you more energetic. You can even make it part of your caregiving routine. A few laps around the neighborhood with your loved one can be a great way to start out the day.
- Aim for 8 solid hours of sleep. Your body needs restful sleep in order to properly recharge. Anything less than 7 hours drastically reduces your energy levels and ability to handle stress. If you find yourself tossing and turning at night, check out the Deupree House blog to see how you can improve the quality of your sleep in 5 simple steps.
Create a support network.
You never have to take on the task of caregiving alone. Family, friends, and local senior services can all be powerful tools for caregivers
- Talk to family and friends. While you might be worried about imposing on others, you may find yourself pleasantly surprised at how willing your friends and family are to provide the support you need to stay happy and healthy as you provide care.
- Utilize senior services in your community. Most communities have programs and services that provide assistance for older adults—from housekeeping to transportation. Reduce the strain you’ve placed on yourself by contacting the local branch of the National Association of Area Agencies on Aging (n4a)for information on services that are available.
- Find a support group. Nothing quite compares to getting advice and support from others who understand and sympathize with your struggles and little victories. In addition to helping you find local senior services, your local Area Agency on Aging can be a great resource for finding a caregiver support group.