Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Caregiver Burnout - Regain Your Life and Health

Millions of Baby Boomers across the nation are caregivers for a family member, whether that person is their elderly parent, a spouse, a handicapped child or another relative.  If you have cared for a sick loved one who had the flu or some other illness for a few days, imagine how demanding the experience would be if it continued for years.  It is not unusual for a caregiver to become exhausted, stressed, overwhelmed, depressed, lonely and, in some cases, the caregiver may even become ill themselves.

In addition, a caregiver who is married and responsible for their own family may find that devoting themselves to the care of an ill relative can take a toll on their other relationships.

As a result of the many problems which can affect a caregiver, it is important they learn how to take care of themselves, as well as the people under their care.  This balancing act can be essential if they want to maintain their own health.  Below are ideas to help caregivers regain their lives, keep themselves healthy and maintain their relationships, without abandoning the people who need their help.

Caregivers Need to Ask for Help

Check out respite care - Many communities offer a public adult daycare program.  This gives you the opportunity to drop off the person under your care for the day.  Often you will find that elderly people, even those with serious health problems or dementia, enjoy being able to get out of the house, spend time with other people, and engage in stimulating activities.  Meanwhile, you can use the day to run errands, schedule doctor's appointments, see friends or simply take a nap.  Adult daycare services are frequently offered on a sliding financial scale, so caregivers can pay an affordable amount based on their income.  In addition, some private nursing homes offer temporary stays on a space-available basis, which make it possible for you to leave an ill patient with them for a few days while you take a trip with your family.  This is an ideal solution when you need a break, but do not have anyone else in the family who can help you. It can also be a solution if you become sick, need to go into the hospital yourself, or have other problems which make it temporarily impossible for you to keep up your caregiver duties. 

Ask friends and family for help - I have a friend whose husband developed severe Parkinson's disease in his mid-60s.  He likes to sit at home all day and watch Westerns or football on TV.  He rarely speaks or engages with anyone.  Naturally, my friend is not comfortable leaving her husband alone at home.  As a result, she often asks friends and family members to simply come to her home and sit with her husband while he watches TV.  This gives her a break and the opportunity to get out of the house and do things for an hour or two several times a week.  If you know someone who is caring for a family member in a similar situation, reach out and offer to sit with their loved one occasionally.  It will just take a few hours of your time, and there is no better gift you can give a caregiver than a little of your time.

Say "Yes" When Someone Offers to Help - Many caregivers believe they are the only person who can take care of the patient under their care.  However, both you and the patient need to learn to accept help when it is offered.  You do not want to feel you are being held hostage by a demanding relative who will not let you out of their sight.  It is beneficial for both the caregiver and the patient when they allow other people to help as much as possible.  In addition, you are also helping the person who offered to help you.  People feel good about themselves when they do something nice for someone else, even if it only happens occasionally.  Having someone sit with your family member while they sleep or watch football on television is an easy way for your friend to help you and feel good about themselves at the same time.  Even if a friend is not comfortable staying alone with the patient, but they offer to bring over food or mow your lawn, accept the offer.  It is one less thing you will have to do.  Learn to be gracious and appreciative in accepting whatever help you receive.

Let the Patient Help Themselves as Much as Possible - The person under your care may not be able to do much for themselves, or they may be able to do some basic things such as feeding themselves or using the remote control for the TV.  Let them do as much as possible for themselves.  It will lessen their boredom and help them feel good about themselves.  It will also take some pressure off of you.  You can make their self-help easier if you make sure your home is as safe as possible.  You may want to install handrails in the bathroom, remove rugs which make it difficult for them to use a walker, order a remote control or telephone with extra large buttons, or make other simple adaptations to your home.  The more they can do for themselves, the easier it will be to care for them.

Caregivers Need to Take Care of Themselves

Stay in touch with friends - It is not enough that you find ways to get out of the house if you only use the time to buy groceries and run other essential errands.  You also need to spend time with your friends, go out to lunch, and keep up your favorite activities, whether that means staying involved with your place of worship or joining a book club.  Do not feel guilty about having fun.  In addition, chat on the phone with your friends whenever you cannot see them.  You will only resent the person under your care if you feel you had to give up everything and everyone important to you.

Pamper yourself - Whether you get an occasional massage or go away for the weekend, doing something special for yourself once in a while is essential.  Make a list of things you used to enjoy and try to schedule a few of those activities as often as you can.  Make appointments to get a manicure or have your hair done; go shopping; take a walk in the park. 

Join a caregiver support group - Many senior centers, community recreation departments and churches offer caregiver support groups. This is an excellent way to make new friends, share your feelings, and learn about community resources which could help you.  If you cannot find a support group near you, there are online groups available.

Take care of yourself - Make sure you take care of your own health.  Be sure to go to the doctor yourself, get exercise, take a relaxation class like yoga or meditation, eat well and get plenty of sleep, even if that means taking a short nap in the afternoons.  If you enjoy reading, exercising, gardening, spending time online or knitting, do not give up your favorite activities.  Set aside some time each day to engage in one of your favorite activities and take care of yourself. You cannot care for someone else if you become ill yourself.

Get all the information you can - You may want to purchase a helpful guide to being a caregiver.  If you are taking care of someone with dementia, a particularly helpful guide which is available using this link from Amazon is:  "The 36-Hour Day: A Family Guide to Caring for People with Alzheimer Disease, Other Dementias and Memory Loss."  You will find this book is an invaluable resource and will help you maintain your own sanity.

If you want to learn more about common health issues as you age, Medicare, Social Security, financial planning, where to retire and more, use the tabs or pull down menu at the top of the page to find links to hundreds of additional helpful articles.

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