Care For the Caregiver

How Do I Take Care Of Myself?

This is one of the most vital, and unfortunately most ignored, pieces of advice for caregivers. You've got to take care of yourself! Sure, sure, you might be thinking, other caregivers can take a break, but I can't because my mom really needs me. You're absolutely right. Your loved one needs you more than anything, to help with decision-making, to give her hugs, and to take care of her daily needs. But what if you were suddenly gone? What would happen to your mom?

Statistics show us that caregivers, especially of Alzheimer's-afflicted people, have a much higher rate of illness and death than non-caregivers. Besides obvious sources of injury, such as lifting a person who cannot transfer herself from bed or a chair or perform other activities of daily living (ADL's), there are many other risk factors involved with being a caregiver:

Risk factors:

  • Increased rate of heart disease.
  • Vastly increased rate of depression, anxiety, and even suicide.
  • Lower immune system, resulting in a host of health issues, more frequent doctor visits, and higher healthcare costs.
  • Risk of sudden death due to stroke, heart attack or other causes.
  • Insomnia, headaches, and other general signs of declining health are more common.
  • Increased risk of cancer, diabetes, and other diseases.
  • Stress, which can lead to irritability, anger, frustration and other negative emotions, pointed at yourself and at your care recipient.

Now that you know the importance of taking care of yourself, here are some ways to put it into practice:

  • Get exercise. This is something you've got to fit in, no matter how hard it is. Exercise is one of the best things you can do for yourself, and no matter how tired you may be, you will actually find you have more energy afterward. If you absolutely cannot find a half hour or an hour three times a week to work out, simply take your loved one on a walk around the neighborhood. All that movement is good for both of you!
  • Eat right. Eat a diet rich in fruits and vegetables - especially the brightly-colored kind such as dark leafy greens, berries, and tomatoes. These sorts of foods will help you stave off illness and give your body a boost.
  • Talk to someone. Whether you find a personal therapist or join a support group, you need to talk to someone about how you're feeling. If you're not comfortable talking about your emotions with other people, join a support group and just listen - you will not feel so alone and isolated in your situation.
  • Don't forget to laugh. Find humor in the silly things in life. Get your daily dose of laughter, and don't forget that this caregiving journey is not all serious - there can be light moments, too.
  • Accept help. Involve your family and friends, because they can be one of the biggest boons to your health. Ask them to take over for an afternoon so you can have a break.
  • Take a break. Get some time alone, or with a friend. Go see a movie, take a long bath, read a book, get coffee with a friend you've been neglecting, go to dinner with your spouse - whatever activity you love the most.
  • Learn to self-soothe. Don't forget about your spiritual side. Take time daily to pray, meditate, read or just relax.

It's absolutely critical that you take time to value yourself, stay healthy and monitor your personal needs. Even though it's easier to neglect your health during this time of your life, you actually need to be more acutely aware of your needs and health-changes. Especially if you are all your loved one has, you cannot risk becoming suddenly unavailable to her due to sudden illness or death. As a caregiver, you must strive to be healthy and happy before you can take good care of someone else.

Make Life Better Today

Recognize your limitations, and don't judge yourself for them. You are human, too, and you have many facets to your life. For your sake and your loved one's, you must take time to recharge.

Make Life Better This Week

Start making calls to friends and loved ones about sharing the load. You may be surprised how willing people are to help!

Make Life Better This Month

Keep dates on the calendar that you know you have help coming. When you come home from an afternoon off, ask your friend what day next month would work for her to come help you out again.