According to the National Alliance for Caregiving, nearly 20% of the U.S. adult population has taken on some form of family caregiver duties. Not only does full-time care demand time and resources, but it is evidently harmful to the health of the caregiver.
In fact, one study shows that healthcare costs for caregivers rise as their loved ones continue to decline. Even after the caregiving ends, the immune system can take up to three years to fully recover from the stress and strain of caring for a loved one.
Anyone who’s flown recently knows these familiar words: “In the case of a sudden descent, oxygen masks will fall from the overhead compartment. Please secure your own mask before helping others…”
With a little modification, this pre-flight advice may just save you from burning out: Before you care for others, please take care of yourself. If we’re going to be at our highest level, it’s critical that we take care of ourselves even as we care for our loved ones.
In this article, we want to briefly overview three essential ways to do just that.
1. Engage Family & Social Networks
As a full-time caregiver for elderly or disabled loved ones, you’ll want to tend towards isolation. After all, in home care can demand virtually all of your time, energy, and money. At the end of the day, the last thing you’ll be concerned with is keeping up your social life.
To combat this tendency, make it a point to reach out to family and friends. Additional support from your community will be crucial at every stage of this journey. Communicating with the outside world on a regular basis will keep you from becoming lonely and disconnected from the world.
2. Mind Your Own Health
As we saw above, caring for another can paradoxically take its toll on your wellbeing. One of your primary caregiver duties must be to preserve your own health first.
A nutritious, well-balanced diet will be crucial for keeping you in top condition. Regular exercise will not only boost your health but will help manage the heightened stress levels that come along with full-time care.
Naturally, adequate sleep will be vital to reducing caregiver stress and managing the physical demands of care. Be sure to check in with your primary care physician regularly as well.
3. Take Advantage of Specialized Support
There are more resources available to full-time caregivers today than ever before. Online, you can find information on everything from healthcare planning to end of life support. You can even join online community support groups to learn from others’ experiences.
You also need to connect with living, human beings in the real world. Websites like the Alzheimer’s Association provide listings of local support groups. You’re carrying a heavy burden. These groups will help you to connect with and be encouraged by people who know what you’re going through.
Finally, don’t be ashamed to take advantage of various respite care options. Whether you hire a nurse to come into the home for a break or you can make use of an adult day care center, respite care will provide you the break you need to regroup and take care of life’s everyday concerns.
Your caregiver duties will demand more than you ever knew you had to offer. Look after yourself along the way and be amazed at just how far your body will be able to sustain you as you care for your loved one.
By Adinah East, VP Quality Improvement, Caring People Inc