The job of caring for an elderly adult is one of the most important and unfortunately, often one of the most thankless jobs a person can perform. Whether you are taking on the role of caregiver yourself or observing one of your older adult parents caring for the other, it’s crucial to keep in mind that if a caregiver is exhausted, everyone suffers. Self-care is as important for caregivers as providing care for another.
It is easy for caregivers to lose themselves in the daily work of providing for the health of their patients. Home healthcare often involves difficult physical labor, such as lifting another person into bed or into the bathtub, and stressful medical procedures, such as administering daily injections or time-sensitive medications. Especially in the beginning, having to complete these tasks each day can feel overwhelming. However, working yourself to the point of exhaustion or stress-induced illness is not a sustainable solution.
If you (or a caregiver you love) tend to neglect your own health or are experiencing signs of being overly tired, a gentle reminder about the airplane rule might be in order. Before takeoff, flight attendants always make the following announcement, while going over emergency procedures: put on your own oxygen mask before assisting others around you. It’s not selfish to make your own health a priority.
What are some tools you can use to ensure that you take care of yourself when you are the caregiver?
1. Make time for yourself: It’s easy to believe that when you are primarily responsible for the care of another, you can’t afford to take any time out for yourself. But everyone needs breaks. If you hold yourself responsible 24/7, you will quickly burn out. This is especially true when you are dealing with a stressful situation like caring for an elderly parent who has a serious medical condition. To make sure you are able to provide the best possible care, you need to take personal time off. So, take breaks even when it feels like you can’t. Taking even a few minutes for yourself can make a huge difference. Go for a brisk walk with a friend, read a few chapters of a good book, or simply relax in your favorite chair.
2. Take time to exercise: Staying physically active reduces stress. If the older adult relying on your care is able to get out of the house, make taking a stroll part of your daily routine. Getting out in nature is also a great stress reliever. So even a short walk or ride in the wheelchair around the neighborhood can do wonders to lift everyone’s mood.
3. Eat nutritious foods: One big factor in staying healthy and strong during mentally taxing situations like caring for someone with a chronic health condition is eating well. Avoid foods full of simple sugars, trans fats, and carbohydrates. Although these “comfort foods” might taste delicious and make you feel better for a moment, they can cause a quick spike in energy followed by a crash that can leave you feeling tired and irritable. Eating heart-healthy foods like leafy greens, fruit, and whole grains, gives you more energy, staves off depression, and prevents illness. Because eating well is challenging when you are busy caring for someone, a good healthy eating blog full of quick and easy recipes that work for you can literally be a lifesaver (here is helpful list of healthy eating blogs).
4. Accept help from others: Don’t be afraid to ask for help and to accept offers of help that come your way. There is no reason for you to bear the entire burden of caring for your loved one alone. Often family and friends hesitate to ask whether you need help, especially when you put on a brave face and seem to have everything under control. But it’s always good to have extra help and sometimes all it takes is for you to ask. If you are anxious about letting others help with providing personal or health care, think of other ways in which friends, neighbors, and family members could ease your burden. Here are some examples: providing a healthy meal once a week, doing some light housecleaning, or building an accessibility ramp.
5. Make connections: Finally, as a caregiver, you might need support to help you cope with the emotional, physical, and psychological toll that caregiving can take. There are many online support groups for caregivers. These groups provide a safe space to vent your frustrations as well as being a valuable resource where others can answer your questions and offer advice based on their own experiences. Keep in mind, though, that while online connections are great, they can’t replace real-life interactions. Make it a point to get out of the house at least once a week: go to lunch with a friend; join a book club; or find an exercise class you enjoy. Mark these events on your calendar and treat them like real appointments.
Besides making use of the above tools, caregivers can take care of themselves by taking advantage of technology that is available to keep older adults safe while they age comfortably at home. Wouldn’t you rest easier knowing that if mom gets up out of bed and has a fall in the middle of the night, while the whole family is sleeping, emergency services will be notified immediately? With PBE Help’s Safe at Home service, mom wears a fall detector pendant that is automatically triggered by a fall. This safety device helps you take better care of mom and consequently, yourself.
As caregivers, it’s important to remember that self-care is not selfish. It’s not selfish to make sure you have enough oxygen before assisting others. In fact, caring for yourself is essential to taking the best care of your loved ones who rely on you.
Is self-care a priority in your life?
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