Caregiver’s New Year’s Resolution #1: Brake before you Break

Its less than an week into the New Year and  millions of Americans are making New Year’s Resolutions with the intention of positively changing their life, be it with a commitment to lose weight or to spend more time with family. For the caregivers of elderly loved ones, this is the perfect opportunity for you to commit to the resolution that will improve not only your well being but also the life of your loved one. In 2009, commit to braking before you break: taking the time now to invest in yourself will help you better manage stress and your role as a caregiver.

If you are one of the estimated 50 million Americans caring for an elderly, chronically ill or disabled family member or friend, you know that caregiving is highly stressful. With advances in medicine and technology, this number will only be expected to grow and continue to impact the so-called “Sandwich Generation,” individuals who are caring for their parents or elderly relatives in addition to their children and immediate family. Further complicating matters, work, or other responsibilities reduce the caregiver’s ability to monitor their own well being. Caregiver’s stress is so much more than an emotional burden; in fact, recent investigations have shown that family caregivers experience numerous health issues as a result of the strain of caregiving. In a 2004 study by the University of California, it was found that this extreme stress could prematurely age as much as 10 years off of a family caregiver’s life. Also, a 2003 National Academy of Sciences study showed that the stress of family caregiving for persons with dementia has been shown to impact a person’s immune system for up to three years after their caregiving ends, which increases their chances of developing a chronic illness themselves.

Clearly, the stress of caregiving has unseen effects on the health and wellbeing of the caregiver. Ultimately, taking care of yourself is the most selfless act you can do as you care for your elderly loved one. So, add a new resolution to your list for 2009: Take better care of the caregiver, whether its just you or the whole family. Not sure where to begin? Here are some ideas:

– Know when to ask for help and access community resources! Accept that you cannot do it all and utilize existing resources to help you manage your role.  A great place to start would be to contact AGE’s Caregiver Resource Center, which gives free information, referrals and advice to the caregivers of the elderly.

– Get some “me” time. We hear that frequently, but integrating time for a hobby, to exercise or simply to run errands will make a significant difference in your stress level.  Employ friends, neighbors or other trusted individuals to sit with your loved one while you take a breather. Better yet, bring Mom or Dad to Elderhaven, Central Texas’s only licensed adult day center, where our therapeutic programming and medical staff can take care of older adults in a safe, social environment.

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