Our CaregiverU Program Director, Faith Unger, has a great mantra: “Caregiving is a marathon, not a sprint.” All too often, caregivers are thrust into the role of taking care of a family member, with little warning and no training.
According to the American Psychological Association, it is estimated that informal caregivers – typically spouses or adult children – provide 80 percent of the long-term care in the case of diseases such as Alzheimer’s. Their 2003 study found that caregivers had a 23 percent higher level of stress hormones and a 15 percent lower level of antibody responses than non-caregivers.
Caregiving also takes a psychological toll. According to the National Family Caregivers Association, the roughly one out of four caregivers who care for a family member for at least 36 hours a week – basically making it a full-time job – are more likely to show signs of depression or anxiety. Relative to peers who don’t provide on-going care, spouses can be depressed or anxious six times more often; adult children suffer these problems twice as often.
So it is imperative that every caregiver needs to find ways to “take time for yourself.” But that is easier-said-than-done for many caregivers, who are carrying the burden alone.
The Saskatchewan Health Wellness and Health Promotions Branch in Regina, Saskatchewan, created a terrific list of “8 Unselfish Ways to Put Yourself First,” which we regularly share with the participants of our CaregiverU classes. Hopefully, these suggestions can help you in your caregiving journey.
- Eat a well-balanced diet:
When you’re stressed out, you may tend to overeat. When you’re exhausted, it’s easy to resort to whatever is handy; quick snack foods, tea and toast, cheese doodles and soda. You need high quality food to perform well.
- Get regular exercise:
Exercise is the original “feel good” tonic. It helps you sleep better and wake up refreshed and ready to face another arduous day. Regular exercise improves both your mental and physical wellbeing, keeping your mind alert and body fine-tuned and energetic.
- Get enough rest:
This may be easier said than done, especially if you’re caring for someone who tends to wander at night. Still, most people need six to eight hours of sleep a night to maintain good health. Catch up with cat naps if necessary, early in the day.
- Look after your own health:
When you’re preoccupied with someone else’s health, it’s all too easy to neglect your own. Caregiving can be physically and emotionally exhausting, leaving you at risk for serious illness.
- Get organized:
It is very important to get an early diagnosis of your loved one’s illness, and then learn everything you can about it. That way you’ll know what to expect, and you can plan for any future challenges.
- Plan for emergencies:
Who will take over if you do get sick? How will you cope if your loved one has a medical emergency? Be prepared. Keep a file or notebook with names and phone numbers of people you might need. In a crisis, you’ll be less likely to panic if you’re organized down to the last detail.
- Take time out for yourself:
Whether you’re caring for a parent, spouse, or other relative or friend, you need time for yourself. You need outside interests, other people, and a way to escape from the constant pressure of caregiving. You need to get away from time to time. Keep up your friendships. It’s easy to let friendships lag when you have “more important” things to do. But friends can get you through some tough times, just by being there.
- Consider joining a support group:
If you feel alone and isolated in your role as caregiver, talk to other caregivers. They’ll know what you’re up against; they’ll understand where you’re coming from. Think of it as therapeutic socializing—while you’re not actually escaping from your role as caregiver.
- Call our Caregiver Resource Center at (512) 600-9286 for one-on-one assistance and referrals.
- Take a free CaregiverU class, which are offered throughout Travis, Williamson, Bastrop and Hays counties; find a free class at www.CaregiverUcentx.org.
- Attend one of the free annual Caregiver Conferences in Williamson and Travis counties; visit www.AGEofCentralTX.org for more information and register online to attend.
- Take advantage of area respite groups, which provide free weekly drop-in care for older adults, allowing the caregiver some free time; download the list of area respite groups here.
- Visit the Caregiver Resources page of the AGE of Central Texas website for many more online resources, lists of support groups in your area, and helpful publications to download.
Rob Faubion is the Marketing & Outreach Manager for AGE of Central Texas.