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Watching Your Own Well-Being As A Caregiver

Reviewed by: MySeniorCare Staff
Last Updated: 4/13/2010 5:38:20 PM

More than 44 million Americans provide some sort of care for a family member or loved one. In the case of family caregivers, the job is done out of love, because they care and because their loved one will be more comforted by the familiar face of a family member than a stranger. The question is: Who is caring for the caregivers?

Although family members don't mind helping, caring for a loved one can take away from the caregiver's time with other family members; prevent them from even having time for a family of their own; or force them to give up their own comforts and favorites pastimes. Caregiving can drain someone of their energy and take them away from the things they love to do.

Caregivers can become so engrossed in the needs of the person they are caring for that they entirely neglect their own needs. How can this be prevented?

Protect Your Own Mental Health from the Get-Go

The first thing family caregivers must do is remember that if they want to offer the best care possible to their loved one, they need to be in top form themselves—healthy and happy. And caregivers must do everything in their power to achieve this.

Get some exercise. Often, family caregivers don't have enough time to stick to a regular workout routine—especially if the person they are caring for has many needs. Caregivers must incorporate exercise into their daily routine, even during times where it may seem impossible. For example, during their loved one's appointment they can take a walk around the doctor's office or up and down the stairs of the hospital.

Maintain a healthy diet. Many times caregivers are so absorbed in preparing meals and/or providing care to their loved one, they either forget to eat or simply eat the quickest and easiest food they can find in order to save time and be available when needed. The point caregivers need to remember is that they can't be the best help to their loved one when they aren't properly nourished.

Take personal time-outs. Caregivers should routinely go out for dinner with friends, take coffee breaks with the girls, write that novel. Even Evercare Health say, "It's okay to escape and not focus all one's energy on a loved one's illness." Having that social connection helps keep people connected with the "outside world" and reminds them of the other things going on in their lives.

Continue enjoying favorite pastimes. Whether it is gardening, writing, art or music, caregivers should continue doing what lifted their spirits before a loved one fell ill. It's important that caregivers hold onto hobbies and what makes them happy. Such things help maintain hope and provide a positive avenue for relieving stress and worry.

Pay attention to their own health. Caregivers have a tendency to ignore their own health needs in favor of their sick or aging loved one's needs. A good point that Evercare identifies: "If the caregiver gets sick, who will care for their loved one?"

It's alright to accept help. Most people would understand how difficult it can be caring for someone with such high needs. Caregivers should never turn down a genuine offer of help. They can use the break during the day. If a caregiver is concerned that the family member may react negatively to a "stranger" helping out, simply giving the helper an easier task or asking them to help out with tasks they don't get to as often as they'd like to, such as housecleaning, grocery shopping or other car trip chores, is a great option. Every little hand can be a big help.

Find some sort of support group. This can be a church group, peers or simply a group going through the same thing. It can make a tremendous difference to a caregiver's emotional health just to have people in similar situations to talk to.

Research a loved one's illness. Knowledge is power. Caregivers should study the best books and other resources out there on what their loved one is going through. Plus they can get helpful tips and suggestions from experts in the field as well as keeping abreast of the current research on their loved one's condition. These things can actually provide comfort in that if a caregiver understands something better, they can probably deal with it better. Plus, it's much easier for a caregiver to offer comfort to someone when they understand what their loved one's body is going through. That will mean meeting their needs in the best possible way.

Seek professionals for their own health. Caring for another person can be draining and this can put caregivers at a high risk for depression and other mental issues. Adult day services can reduce caregiver stress when used early in the caregiving process. Respite care is also a fantastic option and it can be provided in the home.

Caring for someone can be an emotionally, physically and mentally draining task. It's critical to everyone involved that caregivers address their own needs while caring for someone else. If their own health isn't in tiptop shape, they won't be able to offer proper care to their loved one in need.

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