Find Care for the Caregivers
Many people have experienced the feeling that everything at work will fall apart if they take a little time off.
For caregivers responsible for the well-being of their loved ones or those of other people, time away may especially feel like an unaffordable luxury.
Taking a break or engaging in an activity designed to bring personal joy or fulfillment often comes with a sense of guilt. Caregivers may even find it hard to prioritize basic needs like exercise, medical care or eating.
It’s hard to enjoy regular get-togethers with friends, attending church, shopping, sleeping, reading or taking in a movie when these worthwhile activities come with a dose of guilt or shame.
But without a breather or a little self-care, a caregiver can run the risk of harming their own physical and mental health, leading to depression or anxiety, which can affect their ability to adequately provide for those for whom they are caring.
“Blood pressure and cholesterol levels may go up, the risk for cardiovascular problems increases, the immune system may not work as well,” said Brandi Schneider, director of aging services and administration at UAMS’ Schmieding Center for Senior Health and Education in Springdale. “They could also experience lower memory and problem-solving skills and an increased risk for depression and chronic illnesses. Caregivers are often in a constant state of fight or flight.”
Caregiver burden doesn’t just affect one area of life; the sustained stress can affect other responsibilities as well as relationships. Caregiving can be a drag on time, personal development, physical health, social engagement and emotional well-being.
Carolyn Berry, executive director of the Arkansas Alzheimer’s Association, said that once a person assumes becoming a caregiver, they should have a respite plan. “Respite care by definition is a short break from caregiving responsibilities,” she said. “You hire or have a support system that allows the caregiver to take a break. And you do it from the beginning so it can be part of your plan.”
Finally, don’t underestimate the importance of a respite to the person for whom you are caring. There is a good chance he/she needs a break as much as you do.
Creating Care Anywhere
Here are some ways for caregivers to physically and mentally cope with the stress of their responsibilities:
Plot a Getaway
Taking time away from caregiving is actually important to providing quality care for others.
According to the AARP's Prepare to Care Guide, “Stress can negatively affect your health, well-being and ability to provide care. Schedule regular time for what is important to you and get help from others.”
Even an hour away for lunch or time with friends and family can be helpful.
Think Physical First
It is vitally important to make sure you are attending to your own physical needs. An estimated 70% of caregivers experience a decline in their own health. The downturn is often exacerbated by poor diet, lack of exercise and poor sleep.
Caregivers have a tendency to wait too long to ask for help. Many caregivers do not recognize the stress they are under, so it is a good idea to listen to others when they offer help or express concern.
Nearly half of caregivers do not seek any help, according to the Family Caregiver Alliance.
Not only can a support group connect a caregiver with like-minded people experiencing similar challenges, the meetings also offer a break from the day-to-day tasks that become commonplace.
Regular meetings with a therapist or counselor can also be beneficial.
Know Your ‘Rights’
It is OK to get upset as a caregiver. You might even feel depressed from time to time.
These feelings aren’t unusual. In fact, negative emotions are an expected part of caregiving as spelled out in Jo Horne’s Caregiver Bill of Rights: “I have the right to … get angry, be depressed, and express other difficult feelings occasionally.”
Sources: UAMS Centers on Aging, AARP, National Institute on Aging, Family Caregiver Alliance, Alzheimer’s Association, American Heart Association.
WHO IS A CAREGIVER?
According to the AARP report “Caregiving in the U.S. 2020,” Approximately 53 million Americans are considered “caregivers.” Spouses, children, friends, co-workers and neighbors all fill the role, which includes a variety of unpaid duties including:
• Running errands
• Buying groceries
• Providing transportation
• Assisting with medical needs
• Moving someone from room to room or from a bed to a chair
• Setting up appointments
• Offering companionship
BASICS OF SELF-CARE
• Ask for help when you need it.
• Spend time with friends.
• Join a support group — in person or online.
• Take breaks each day.
• Keep up with hobbies.
— National Institute on Aging