On Being a Caregiver
Becky S., you are especially in my thoughts as I write this–
If you are the designated caregiver in your family, or if you know someone who is a caregiver, please know that I am praying for you! Adults taking care of their elderly parents, parents taking care of children from the very young to into their adulthood, spouses taking care of husbands or wives, or dear friends helping out with someone who is elderly, ill, or just plain lonely—all of you are caregivers. And all of you who are caregivers also need care!
What and how can caregivers manage a job that can be overwhelming and stressful?
The first thing, above all else, is to take care of yourself. Now, you may think that with all of the other things that you have to do, how in the world are you going to find time to do things for yourself? Here is the thing: when caregivers take the time to care for themselves, they end up feeling better, staying healthier, and having more mental and physical energy to care for others!
It’s really important to pay attention to your daily activites. Get out and take a walk or get some other form of regular exercise. Just a walk around the block, concentrating on your breathing, can help. Eat healthy meals. It may be tempting to grab some fast food instead of cooking a simple meal at home, but you will soon see the difference in the way you feel. Too much fat, salt, sugar, and processed foods will make you feel sluggish, both physically and mentally.
Try to get enough sleep. If your caregiving gets you up at night, try to take a nap during the day. Try to get at least one full night’s sleep each week. Believe me, good sleep can make you feel like new again.
Go to your doctor for regular physicals and know the signs of depression. Watch for these signs in yourself and also in those for whom you are caring. If you feel sad or hopeless on a regular basis, be sure to talk to your doctor.
Those for whom you are caring may be difficult, unpleasant, or even combative. It’s important to know your limits; know how much of your time and yourself you are able to give. Set clear boundaries as far as what you can or are willing to do. If the caregiving is too much for you to handle, enlist other family members or close friends to help. Even if you are the primary caregiver, have others take over for periods of time to give yourself a break. Seek support from your church or caregiving support groups. It’s not easy to ask for help. You may be afraid to impose on others, or that requests for help may be rejected. But you will probably be surprised by how willing others may be to help out. Quite often, family members and friends may want to help but just don’t know how or what they can do. Just ask; it can’t hurt! Others may not feel like they are adequate or knowledgeable enough to take over some of your duties occasionally. Find out what they will be comfortable with doing. Sometimes just a bit of help is enough!
If the caregiving is too much for you, it may be time to investigate other options. If your loved one is well enough, adult daycare may be an answer. Contact the Veterans Administration if your loved one is a veteran or the spouse of a veteran; they have many programs and benefits that may be free or at reduced cost. If your family member is bed-bound, home nursing care or hospice may be appropriate.
Accept your feelings about caregiving. You may feel angry, worried, anxious, or resentful. You may also feel sadness if the person you are caring for is terminally ill, or if you have had to put aside some of your own activities or dreams to be a caregiver. These feelings are all very normal. Don’t isolate yourself. It’s important to talk about your feelings. Seek out a trusted friend or see a therapist if need be. Caregiver organizations often have support groups. If you can’t find one, start your own!
Keep your loved one’s medical information organized so that it is up to date and easy to locate. Also, make sure all legal documents are in order and also up to date. Doing these things can greatly reduce stress when you need this information.
In the Indianapolis area, you can contact CICOA, 317-254-3660, for answers on caring for the elderly. Their website, www.cicoa.org/solutions, has a list of organizations that provide programs and services for those caring for older adults and even for grandparents caring for their grandchildren. Community Hospitals’ Touchpoint, 317-621-4657, has resources and programs for aging adults, and St. Vincent Hospital also has programs for the elderly.
Caregiving can be a kind and rewarding process, despite its challenges. But you don’t have to face the job alone!
Blessings to you,