We get numerous calls from elderly people living in the community or from families inquiring about getting some help with housekeeping, laundry, and other various non-medical tasks. Those calling are usually disappointed when they lea
The answer is never good. Burnout can happen when a caregiver is overburdened emotionally and/or physically, and burnout can manifest itself through emotions (depression; anxiety; symptoms such as lashing out, feeling down, resentment to the one needing care) or physical ailments (from aches and pains to hastening the onset of serious medical conditions).
As a caregiver, if you end up hospitalized or having health issues of your own, then who is going to care for the ailing family member?
Because of this, it’s important for family members taking care of elderly parents, spouses, friends, and children to be proactive in caring for themselves. It’s also important for other family members to be supportive of caregivers, encouraging and enabling them to make choices that are both physically and emotionally healthy.
The Alzheimer’s Association lists ten warning signs of caregiver stress: Denial, anger, social withdrawal, anxiety, depression, exhaustion, sleeplessness, irritability, lack of concentration, and health problems.
If you are experiencing a high degree of caregiver stress, take steps necessary to care for your own needs. Do it as a favor to yourself and the loved one who depends on you. The following steps are a good way to start caring for yourself, the family caregiver:
Keep exercise simple. Look for ways to blend exercise into your week. Park the car at the far end of the parking lot and walk quickly to the store. Do stretches and ride an exercise bike while watching TV. While your loved one naps, reserve 20 minutes to take a brisk walk outside or climb indoor stairs.
Eat smart, the smart way. Make small changes in your daily diet. Substitute fresh, nutritious fruits and vegetables for calorie-laden snacks and desserts. Drink more water and less soda and juices. Take the time to eat something other than fast food! Gradual changes in what you eat can lead to steady weight loss, with the extra pounds staying off.
Manage your stress level. Some days just naturally simmer with tension and anxiety. Your loved one is in more pain, or the pharmacy can’t refill the medication. Learn to recognize your stress buttons and plan for ways to decompress. Step outside in the sunshine for mood-lifting vitamin D, or drink a latte with your feet up.
Plan for respite breaks. Circle days on the calendar each month to connect with friends, go out to eat, or stay over at a spa resort. Getting away refreshes your mind, body, and spirit, and it improves your communication and patience with your loved ones. Involve family members to give you respite. Remember when friends ask if there is anything they can do to help, and then take them up on the offer when you need some time away. If family and friends are unavailable, seek out companion home care services to give you much-needed respite on a regular basis.
Connect with support resources. Find a support group to help you on your caregiving journey. Also reach out to online resources, such as senior care blogs, senior care Twitter feeds, and websites for organizations like the National Parkinson Foundation, the Alzheimer’s Association, or the COPD Foundation. If needed, call a home care company to provide additional in-home support.
Carol Hauser, M.A.
March 16, 2015
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