When facing the daily challenges of caring for a loved one, keeping a positive attitude can be quite challenging. Maryalene LaPonsie at US News and World Report spoke with experts to discuss the importance of caring for your self physically and mentally.
There are many people who have found these duties to be extremely rewarding. Whether it is through your spiritual faith, support network of friends and relatives, and routine exercise you too can find away to overcome the eventual rough stretches of caregiving.
Self Care Reason #1- You may no longer be able to care for your loved one
Making your own health a priority benefits you and your patient. If at any point you become ill or injured this will prevent you from acting as their caregiver.
The National Alliance for Caregiving in 2011 recorded the health of 1,222 individuals caring for someone with Alzheimer’s disease over 18 months. The study found that caregiver’s health care usage increased and their self-reported health declined. The caregivers also had double the visits to the emergency room and almost triple the visits to physicians as similar aged non-caregivers. This study clearly points out that respite or substitute caregiver resources can help improve their health.
Self Care Reason #2 You may lose friends and have a lower quality of life
The founder of elder care support organization Parenting Our Parents and renowned family care coach Jane Waterman says that research cannot describe the real life experience of caregiving, “the numbers don’t reflect how personally alone and scary caregiving can be”.
Waterman compares caregiving’s responsibility to that of raising children except that you’re helping someone who will need increased help as time goes on. Also, she says that parents of children have a variety of communal resources available to parents (playgrounds, mom’s day out) while caregivers rarely have that same village support.
This leads to caregivers having to focus on maintaining ties to family, friends and keeping active outside interests. Pamela Wilson, author of “The Caregiving Trap: Solutions of Life’s Unexpected Changes” says “many caregiver lose their friends and become isolated as the person they’re care for”.
While losing contact with friends and family caregivers may also experience difficulty at their job. Not to mention suffering from depression. A 2006 assessment of caregiver for the Family Caregiver Alliance determine that 40 to 70 percent of caregivers may exhibit symptoms of depression.
Self Care Reason #3: You can put yourself at risk for an early death
A 1999 study in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that those who have caregiver strain may have a 63 percent higher risk of death than non-caregivers.
The study’s findings have been called into question Wilson has spent 15 years working with caregivers on a daily basis and does not doubt that there is a link between caregiving and an early death. Wilson continues “caregivers tend to ignore their own health”.
To avoid falling ill or damaging your long term health, while caregiving the experts recommend 5 things:
1. Hold A Family Meeting
Determine which family members will be responsible for which duties. Also, for those family members unable to provide direct care, they should look to assist in other ways like pitching in money for repairs and respite services.
2. Find a Support System
Without friends or a community group to lean on look for support groups. Online support groups may be helpful but in-person groups can lead to deeper connections.
3. Make Healthy Living a Priority
Eating well, sleeping enough, and exercising regularly are essential for your self-care. Make it a point to find a substitute caregiver (friend, neighbor, respite network) to handle your duties to exercise or rest.
4. Schedule Regular Breaks
Taking a break from caregiving gives a mental and emotional boost. Something as simple as walking around the block or seeing the latest movie can offer enormous benefits.
5. Look for Available Resources
Caregivers should utilize online and local resources to learn and grow. Wilson reminds us: “You don’t go to school to be a caregiver, you’re just thrown into the chaos”.