Being a caregiver to an elderly or disabled loved one can be rewarding, but it isn’t always an easy job. Many caregivers are so selfless that they often times forget to take care of themselves, which, in the long run, is harmful to their own health and can lead to problems with their caregiving abilities. We have heard stories of family members acting as caregivers, under the Consumer Directed Personal Assistance Program (CDPAP), to disabled parents or grandparents; the caregiver forgets to make their own health a priority and ends up ill, unable to care for themselves of their loved one. Family caregivers who constantly make the patient’s health their priority experience:
- Lack of physical activity
- Sleep deprivation or trouble sleeping through the night
- Poor dietary and eating habits
- Failure to schedule their own medical appointments
- Inability to rest when they are ill
- Chronic stress, feeling like something is always wrong
- Lack of social interaction
Think about the quick safety lesson a flight attendant gives before a plane ride: in case of emergency, put on your oxygen mask first before you assist anyone else. When it comes to being a personal healthcare assistant, the same applies. At LifeCare Advantage, the health and happiness of patients and caregivers is our priority. We have come up with a list of ways that caregivers can maintain their personal mental and physical health while caring for an elderly or disabled person.
1. You can always as for help!
You may be you loved one’s sole caregiver, but that does not mean you are the only person in the world who is capable of helping out with the patient’s daily needs. Is your friend able to come over once or twice a week to help prepare your loved one’s meals? Is another relative able to drive your loved one to their doctor’s appointment so that you can have an hour to yourself? When it comes to maintaining your own health, remember that it is OK to ask for help. We all need help every now and then, so never be afraid to ask for it—especially if you are feeling sick, worn down or generally irritable. Chances are your friends and family are eager to help and will be more than happy to give you some free time to yourself.
2. Learn ways to manage and reduce your own stress.
You may already be able to pinpoint the things that cause you lots of stress, but do you know what kinds of things you can do to reduce that stress? Many people can easily name off all the things that are causing them stress, but these same people have a hard time coming up with ways to relieve the stress. If you are feeling overwhelmed, like the weight of the world is on your shoulders, enlist the help of a friend and take a day to yourself. Allow yourself to feel deserving of the break and do something you enjoy! If it’s been too long since the last time you utilized “you time,” here are some fun and relaxing things people like to do on days off to relax:
- Make an appointment at a spa
- Get a massage
- Go on a beach walk or walk through your favorite park
- Play with a pet
- Talk with a friend or family member
- Read a long-forgotten book
- Spend time with friends
Figure out what works best for you and make it happen. Stress may initially present itself emotionally, but continued, unresolved stress can eventually have severe negative effects on your physical health. When you feel stress starting to take hold of your life, nip it in the bud immediately!
3. Remember what you can and cannot control.
This tip relates closely to the above recommendation for you to learn ways to manage your stress. Many times, caregivers feel like they need to have control over everything—they need to know everything that is going on at all times. This is simply impossible, though! There is absolutely no way you can control every part of your day or every part of the patient’s day. Things are going to pop up that are out of your control, and there is nothing you can do about it! If a doctor’s appointment gets canceled at the last minute because the doctor is ill, you can always reschedule. If the pharmacy takes longer than usual to fill a prescription, you will have to wait, but at least the prescription is being filled! The only thing that you can truly control is yourself, including your health and your reactions to the events going on around you. If you react poorly with a “glass half empty” mentality, everything during your day is going to appear negative and you are going to react accordingly—stress! If you approach each day thinking, “The glass is half full,” you are going to have a much more positive perspective, and it will be easier to avoid getting super upset about small mishaps.
You absolutely cannot be in control of everything at all times, so don’t forget it! Take care of and manage the things you do have control over and approach everything else with a positive and constructive perspective!
4. Set short and long term goals for yourself.
There are several reasons why setting goals will help you take care of yourself while you are caring for a loved one. Goals will not only give you something to look forward to, they will also give you something to work towards. And when you are working towards a personal goal you have set, you are working on yourself! You are spending time thinking about YOU! Examples of short term goals that you can set for yourself include:
- Spend 15 minutes a day going on a walk by yourself
- Talk to a family member or friend every day
- Enjoy a relaxing bath at the end of the day
- Ask for help when you are feeling overwhelmed
Remember to prioritize your goals because attempting to achieve them all at once will be overwhelming—especially when your efforts will be in addition to all of the responsibilities you already take on. Working towards your goals should be fun and rewarding. If you find that the goals you have set are causing you stress, rethink your goals and set smaller, more easily achievable goals.
5. Start an exercise routine.
Beyond its health benefits, exercise is a wonderful “attitude adjustment.” Exercising releases endorphins which help lift your mood and make you feel happy. If you aren’t someone who is ready to join a gym or start going for runs, walking is a great form of exercise, too! Even a brisk 30-minute walk around the block will do you wonders—plus, if it’s a beautiful day out, there are few things better than some fresh air and sunshine if you are feeling stressed and overwhelmed with your caretaker responsibilities. And if the patient you are caring for is able enough to go on a short walk, invite them along. It will be a good opportunity for you both to get out of the house. (Check back next month for more fun activities that you and your patient can do together!)
At LifeCare Advantage, we give patients an opportunity to join the Consumer Directed Personal Assistance Program. Under the CDPAP, patients have the freedom to choose their own caregiver, providing them with peace of mind and sense of independence. We look forward to helping you through the enrollment process and answering any questions you may have.