Taking care of an aging loved one is never easy – especially when most family caregivers juggle caregiving with other major responsibilities, including careers and children.
In fact, according to the National Alliance for Caregiving and AARP, an estimated 52 million Americans age 18 and older provide unpaid assistance and support to elderly or disabled adults.
Family caregivers can be so concerned with taking care of others, that they lose sight of their own health and well being. Many caregivers become emotionally and/or physically worse off than the loved ones they're caring for due to that personal neglect. It is important to recognize that when your needs are taken care of, the person you care for will benefit as well.
Below, Right at Home provides some practical tips for individuals coping with the emotional and physical challenges of caring for an aging or disabled loved one:
- EXERCISE – Embrace exercising, as it will help you decrease stress and enhance your level of energy. Most experts recommend at least 30 minutes, three times a week.
- EAT BALANCED MEALS – Eat plenty of vegetables, fresh fruits, whole grains and foods high in protein. Try to avoid excess amounts of caffeine, fast food and sugary snacks.
- BE INFORMED –Learn everything you need to know about your loved one's illness in order to be a good caregiver. Knowing what you're up against and what you may expect can give you a sense of control over your situation. Websites and local offices of disease-specific associations such as the Alzheimer's association or Parkinson's Foundation provide a wealth of empowering information.
- SEEK RESPITE CARE – Respite provides family caregivers with a much needed break from their daily responsibilities. Respite care could include assistance from a bonded and insured in-home caregiving agency (such as Right at Home), utilization of an adult daycare center, or even help from other family members or friends. With respite care, you can feel safe leaving your loved one while you run errands or just relax. More extensive respite care can allow you to continue working outside your home or help you balance caring for your children and an elderly adult.
- TAKE CARE OF YOUR PERSONAL HEALTH – While concentrating on the needs of others is important, it is easy to neglect your own health. Get regular health checkups and make sure you are getting enough sleep.
- JOIN A SUPPORT GROUP – A support group will allow you to share your experiences openly and honestly about being a family caregiver, along with the emotions you are feeling. Communicating with other caregivers can give you helpful tips and strategies, relieving that overwhelming sense of isolation that many caregivers face daily. Your local Area Agency on Aging or your local senior center, are good places to start gathering information on groups in your area.
- REMEMBER FRIENDS AND FAMILY – Just because you have aging parents who need your help doesn't mean that your children, spouse or close friends do not need attention as well. Discuss the situation openly and honestly with the family, engaging them in caregiving responsibilities if possible.
- ACCEPT YOUR FEELINGS – Develop coping skills and stay positive. Make humor a part of your life – laughter is the best medicine!