As with any difficult period you go through in life, caring for a loved one is a job you might gladly accept, but the impact of caregiving on you, your physical and mental health and your relationship with your family, can be severe. The National Alliance of Caregivers has done extensive research on the subject:
“Nearly three quarters (72%) of family caregivers report not going to the doctor as often as they should and 55% say they skip doctor appointments for themselves.
63% of caregivers report having poor eating habits than non-caregivers and 58% indicate worse exercise habits than before caregiving responsibilities.
20% of employed female caregivers over 50 years old report symptoms of depression compared to 8% of their non-caregiving peers.”
By making you aware of these statistics, we hope you will take a few moments to reflect on just how important taking care of yourself is to the process of providing outstanding support to your loved one who needs you now.
Becoming a caregiver may or may not have been a conscious decision. You may be gladly caring for your spouse out of love and dedication. You feel it is your choice and duty to them and you would not want to be anywhere else during this time.
On the other hand, maybe you are the only child living close to your parent who is going through an end of life journey. You may be feeling the weight of the responsibility that has become yours. Either way, it is an admirable path you are on, but it is often a lonely one, so you should make a conscious effort to take care of yourself both physically and emotionally.
The real challenge is to know yourself and your limitations in order to take care of yourself. This precious time you have to spend with your loved one will be richer if you are healthy and whole.
Here are some ideas for doing just that. We hope some of them will provide you with avenues for caring for yourself in addition to your loved one.
First and foremost, give yourself and your loved one the best outside help and support you can find. You may feel like you have to do this all alone. That is a common misconception. You are most certainly not alone. Hospices, like Yolo Hospice can provide a lot of support to both the patient and the family. Families caring for a loved one can benefit from the support our hospice caregiving team brings. We can share some of the responsibilities of providing day-to-day care.
Educate your self about your loved one’s disease. The more you know, the less fearful it will seem and you will be better equipped to help your loved one if you understand what’s going on. Check out information from the library, online information sources and ask the doctor or your Yolo Hospice team any questions about things you don’t understand.
Keep a Caregiver’s Notebook. Use it for record keeping or writing down those questions that come up so you don’t forget to ask them later. The notebook can include a calendar to keep track of your own appointments so you don’t miss medical appointments, yoga classes, group support meeting or therapy sessions. You can record when medications need to be taken by the family member you are caring for as well as your own regular medications if you are taking any.
On that calendar, make sure you schedule caregiver breaks, which can be provided by a hospice volunteer or family and friends. If you strive to follow your Caregiver’s calendar, you will keep yourself healthier and be the best caregiver you can be.
The little things CAN make a difference. Things like eating right, exercising, expressing yourself by writing or through art. Watch movies you like with the loved one you are caring and invite other family members or friends so you have others around you. If you love books, read them aloud or get books on CD. The loved one you are caring for will enjoy them and so will you.
Attend a support group. Emotional health is just as important as physical health. There are many organizations in your community willing to assist with emotional support. Yolo Hospice offers a variety of support groups you can take advantage of.
Remember to follow the Cardinal Rule of Caregiving: Take care of yourself so you CAN take care of your loved one.