If you’ve recently taken on the role of caregiver, you may feel overwhelmed and uncertain about what the future holds. Despite your new responsibility, it’s crucial that you don’t stop caring for yourself as well.
Early Planning Is Essential
One way to address that uncertainty is by learning as much about your loved one’s health issues as possible. Doing so will help you address treatable conditions early and plan for the future. This planning process should also include any close friends or family members who will be involved. These initial meetings should lay the groundwork for how each person plans to contribute to your loved one’s care since, even if there is a primary caregiver, one person probably can’t—and shouldn’t—try to do it all.
You should also take the time to get your loved one’s healthcare plan in place so they’ll have the coverage they need when they need it. A Medicare resource guide can walk you through the enrollment process, as well as help you find supplemental plans that will cover prescription drugs, as well as dental and vision care. Knowing these issues are covered, both for preventive care and in the event of an emergency will reduce stress for you and your loved one.
Along those same lines, don’t wait to explore community resources designed to make life easier for caregivers. Organizations like Meals on Wheels or adult daycare centers not only provide a respite for caregivers but offer a valuable community connection to the person being cared for. So, rather than feeling a sense of guilt when you take advantage of these services, view the time they create as an opportunity to address your own needs.
Although it may seem impractical — or virtually impossible — to take time for self-care, it’s integral to being an effective caregiver, according to the Family Caregiver Alliance. After all, how can you care for someone else to the best of your ability if your own physical, mental, and emotional needs are neglected?
Taking self-care steps early on helps you make good choices, minimizes the stress associated with your new role, and prevents you from coping with the pressure by turning to substances like drugs and alcohol or relying on food for comfort. And, before you dismiss these possible problems, it’s worth noting that research shows caregivers are indeed more susceptible to unhealthy habits than those who don’t devote time to caring for a family member or friend with an illness or long-term disability.
For instance, one study of California caregivers found them more likely to smoke and be obese than their non-caregiving counterparts, regardless of age group. And the stress of caregiving seemed to weigh even more heavily on middle-aged caregivers who might be juggling job and childcare duties, with more than a quarter of caregivers between the ages of 45 and 62 reporting binge-drinking behavior.
One way to address the emotions that come with caregiving in a positive, proactive way is by joining a support group of people in similar situations. Other caregivers can provide an empathetic ear and may also be able to suggest solutions to everyday obstacles that come with caregiving thanks to their own experiences. And many groups often communicate online, making it easier to fit interaction into your schedule.
At the same time, it’s important to continue connecting with old friends. So don’t hesitate to find the right respite care for your loved one so you can take time off. Not only will finding backup care early on help in emergency situations, but it will also ensure both you and your loved one are comfortable with the care setting. If that’s the case, you can look forward to a leisurely lunch with close confidants while your loved one experiences a pleasant break from their day-to-day routine.
Everyday Self-Care Strategies
With a little creativity, you may also be able to incorporate self-care into your caregiving routine. For instance, why not research healthy recipes that fits both your dietary needs? Or, if possible, suggest a walk outdoors or create crafts that stretch both you and your loved one’s mental muscles. During downtime, such as waits at the doctor’s office, individual hobbies like journaling or adult coloring can also offer you an emotional outlet or simply provide an opportunity to temporarily take your mind off your worries.
So, although caregiving can be an immense responsibility, you shouldn’t sacrifice self-care. In fact, prioritizing it on your to-do list will make you happier, healthier, and more effective at providing care for the one you love.
Contributed by Lydia Chan. Lydia is the co-creator of Alzheimerscaregiver.net, a website that aims to provide tips and resources to help caregivers. Her mom was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and Lydia found herself struggling to balance the responsibilities of caregiving and her own life. She is passionate about sharing her knowledge and experiences with caregivers and seniors. In her spare time, Lydia finds joy in writing articles about a range of caregiving topics.