Taking care of a relative who is elderly, disabled, or ill can be a difficult task. It can have a serious impact on your own well-being. 23% of family caregivers who take care of a family member for more than five years report that their own health is fair or poor. 72% report not going to the doctor when they should, and 63% report poor eating habits. Between 40% and 70% show signs of clinical depression. And there's no guarantee that these problems will end when the caregiving ends – the stress of caring for a dementia patient can affect the immune system for up to three years. This is why it's vitally important to make sure that while you're taking care of your loved one, you're also taking care of yourself. Take a look at some self-care tips for caregivers.
Do Something Nice For Yourself Once A Day
How much time do you take for yourself each day? If you can't remember the last time you read a chapter of a book or watched a TV show, you're doing too much. Carve out some time – even if it's only a few minutes – to do something nice for yourself. Read a magazine. Have a cup of tea. Walk around the block.
Don't be afraid to ask someone you trust to relieve you for a short time, if you can't leave your loved one alone. A family member, friend, or trusted neighbor can stand in for you long enough for you to take a short break.
Prioritize Your Health
You're no good to anyone if you end up too sick to take care of yourself, let alone anyone else. Irregular meals and lack of sleep can all take a toll on your body. If you're making sure that your loved one gets three meals a day, then there's no reason why you shouldn't be eating three meals a day too. Eat with your loved one – it's good for you, and they'll enjoy the company too, even if they can't tell you. If your loved one wanders or tries to get out of bed by themselves at night, invest in a bed alarm so that you can sleep without listening for every bump in the night. Keep your own doctor's appointments as faithfully as you keep your loved one's doctor's appointments.
You also need to make sure that you don't injure yourself. Caregiving is physically difficult as well as stressful. Nurses and aides in nursing homes are taught not to lift patients alone, because doing so risks an injury to both the patient and the caregiver. You shouldn't lift alone either. If you don't have someone in the house to help you, consider investing in a mechanical lift or other assistive device.
Make Use Of Local Resources
There are a lot of reasons why you might have decided to do the caregiving yourself, rather than hiring someone or putting your loved one in a nursing home. Maybe you're afraid that you can't afford help, or maybe you are skittish of trusting your loved one to strangers. But when you reach a point where you need a break or realize that you can't do it all yourself, then it's time to reach out.
Even part-time in-home care can considerably lighten your load. Medicaid or Medicare might pay for those services, if your loved one qualifies for it. Your local Council on Aging may be able to point you to resources as well. If you have trouble getting your loved one to doctor's appointments, look into senior shuttle services in your area. Want a break from cooking? See if Meals on Wheels can help. Need a vacation? See if your loved one's health insurance covers respite care – a temporary in-home caregiver or stay in a nursing home so that you can take a break and recharge.
Choosing to care for a loved one is a selfless and kind act. But you shouldn't sacrifice your own health and well-being to do it. Making the time and effort to care for yourself will help you to be a better caregiver and a happier person.