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How are YOU doing?
Categories: Caregiving Articles, Senior Care Tips, Taking Care of Yourself | Posted: 11/10/2015 | Views: 3837

As a caregiver attending to the needs of elderly or disabled loved ones, you may sacrifice your own physical and emotional needs. You can tell this is happening when feelings of exhaustion, stress, isolation, and guilt take over. All of this puts our own health at an increased risk. If you have not yet recognized these feelings, check in with yourself: Are you suffering from headaches, sleepless nights, weight gain, or depression? This emotional roller coaster can even cause excessive use of alcohol, tobacco or other drugs.

What is Your Caregiving Journey Like?

We are only going to be as good to our loved ones as we are to ourselves. Taking care of yourself is probably the hardest thing to do as a caregiver, but will determine the quality of your care journey. Studies show that 60% of caregivers exhibit signs of depression and are at greater risk for other medical issues. Not feeling it yet? The stress of caregiving will eventually creep in and could strain even the best of relationships - including spouse and siblings.

Why is it so hard to equally prioritize our own health? It shouldn’t be! We need to have a positive mental outlook as well as good health to be able to provide quality care. The American Medical Association has put together a Caregiver Self Assessment Questionnaire, which is designed to help the caregiver analyze her own behavior and health risks to make decisions that will benefit both caregiver and loved one.

It Can be Rewarding

On the flip side, caring for a loved one is a great demonstration of love and commitment and can be very rewarding.  I was the primary caregiver for my mother in law for many years and currently share caregiving duties for my parents. She passed more than 5 years ago and I still miss her. Yes, at the end of some of those days I was exhausted but she gave so much to our family and we loved it when she came to live with us. We have so many good memories that she will never be far away. It is those good memories that you will want to keep and remember your loved one by. At the funeral, my husband joked that we never had to question our children about their report cards. She always got to see the report card before we got home and had already taken care of it.

We overlooked those little things that could have been so much bigger had we let them.  I was fortunate in that she was a great second mother to me and always made sure I took care of myself as well. I look back now and cannot say I sacrificed anything while taking care of her. I can say that partly because we asked for help when we needed it and were able to have time for ourselves. I think the fact that we never felt overwhelmed was key to those years going by so fast.

With the number of seniors increasing at alarming rates, family members who are not health care professionals are providing more and more caregiving. Informal caregivers are now providing most of the long-term care within the United States.

How are you Coping? As a caregiver you may be so focused on the needs of your loved one that you do not realize what it is doing to your own health and personal life. Be aware of the following signs of caregiver stress.

Signs of Caregiver Stress:

  • Failure to make and keep your own medical appointments
  • Sleep deprivation
  • Gaining weight – poor eating habits
  • Less physical activity
  • Not getting your rest when you are ill
  • Feeling isolated
  • Financial difficulties
  • Depressed
  • Feeling tired all the time
  • Losing interest in activities you always enjoyed
  • Experiencing headaches, or other physical problems that are new
  • Abusing alcohol or drugs

The emotional and physical demands involved with caregiving for a loved can strain even the most resilient person. Taking advantage of any resources or tools you have available will not only help you take better care of yourself, but better care of your loved one. I have listed three suggestions that I think are the most important for caregivers. Life is to short and too valuable to let the joy of caregiving feel like a burden.

Some Suggestions to Help Remove the Stress

Accept Help

People will often ask how they can help. Do not make the mistake of pushing that help away. Keep a list of tasks you could use help with and when asked let them choose how they can help. Someone picking up a few groceries or running errands is not going to be going out of their way because we all have those tasks to do on a regular basis. DO NOT feel guilty about asking for help or accepting it either. Be realistic in what you are able to do. That equates to not setting yourself up for failure.

Stay Connected

Stay connected to friends and family. Many caregivers will withdraw from friends and family due to the many tasks at hand and end up feeling isolated as a result. Maintaining relationships can be beneficial in many ways. Not only will having a coffee break or lunch with a friend(s) give you a much-needed reprieve but can be a source to vent as well. Time with friends should also be a time to relax and take your mind off your responsibilities. Connecting with support groups or resources in you area can be a great source of understanding and connection.

Focus on the Positive

As I said above, I am so grateful to have had my mother in law in my life. Do not look for just one good thing each day but focus on the many joys that are truly there. The tasks I looked forward to the least were giving her a bath and a pedicure. As it turned out my daughter liked doing her nails for her and it gave her a lot of time with gram to hear the many stories about her life and growing up during the depression.  I found bath time to be less of a chore when I realized she had a fear of water. I began looking at it differently. If you struggle to find any positives of caregiving, you are in way over your head and should really explore all resources.

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