According to the Family Caregiver Alliance (FCA), most Americans will become caregivers at some point in their lives. In fact, family members provide 80% of the long-term care in this country—yet many feel unprepared for their role, and are providing care with little or no support.
Most family caregivers have other responsibilities—jobs, caring for children, and often as not, caring for more than one elderly relative. This makes it highly likely that caregivers’ own needs will be put on the back burner. And the FCA reports that more than one-third of caregivers are dealing with health challenges of their own.
Caregiving can be very stressful. If you are a caregiver, it’s important to create a plan of action for reducing stress in your life. Taking action in this way, as opposed to ignoring stress or falling into a feeling of helplessness, can help you better deal with challenges. Here are eight tips that can help:
- Take care of yourself. Studies show family caregivers often neglect their own health care appointments and fail to eat well or get enough exercise. Remember that you’ll be a better caregiver if you tend to your own physical, emotional, mental and spiritual needs. There’s an old saying: “Caring for yourself is an important part of caring for your loved one.”
- Create some “me” time. Everybody needs some time to do what they enjoy! Make your own needs a priority. If this makes you feel guilty, recognize that in order to be an effective caregiver, you need to be healthy, alert and fully present. This can only happen if you’re making an effort to focus on yourself sometimes—whether that’s spending some time with family and friends, taking a weekend trip, or a walk at a local park.
- Establish boundaries. Most caregivers want to do all that they can to provide good care for their loved one. But everyone has limits. Let your loved one know the times you’re available to provide assistance and stick to a pre-arranged schedule. If something comes up that alters that schedule, let your loved one know and help them find an alternate source of assistance, if possible.
- Let others in your life know about your situation. If you have children, explain why you may have less time to spend with them these days. If you work, be open with your employer about your caregiving situation—this is much better than having them wonder about any absences or more frequent personal phone calls. If your company has a human resources department, discuss your options, such as a work schedule that accommodates your caregiving duties.
- Don’t judge your feelings. Caregiving can be a roller coaster of emotions. Understand that all feelings are normal. You may feel sadness at the changes in your loved one. You may feel some anger or resentment at the role you have taken on and that it’s taking time away from your career or other family members. Acknowledge these feelings and understand they are completely normal and part of the role of being a caregiver.
- Share your feelings with someone you trust. Often, just being able to talk to someone—a friend or a trained therapist—about what’s going on can make a huge difference in a caregiver’s well-being. Not only will the act of sharing help reduce some stress, but the person you talk to may have suggestions on how to help ease the stress you’re facing.
- Ask for help. Don’t be afraid to lean on family and friends, even if it’s just to stop by the grocery store, to pick up a prescription at the pharmacy, or to plan more frequent visits to your loved one’s senior living community. Family members who live at a distance might be willing to contribute to the care costs you incur—a great way for them to know they’re both helping your loved one and helping you! By asking for help, you’re not only receiving that help, but you’re also providing the opportunity for others to be of service.
- Take advantage of community resources. There are numerous governmental and volunteer groups that may be able to provide some assistance. Meals on Wheels, local church groups, your local Area Agency on Aging or senior services organization, senior living communities and home care agencies may be able to provide you with information and assistance. One of our community outreach directors can help you locate these services. Call us at (855) 363-6734 or search our website to see how we can help.