By Melissa Weidman
If you provide care for a chronically ill, disabled or aged family member or friend, you are in good company. According to Caregiving in the United States, prepared by the National Alliance for Caregiving with AARP, during any given year more than 65 million people, or 29% of the U.S. population, spend an average of 20 hours per week providing care for their loved one.
The value of the services family caregivers provide for free, when caring for older adults, is estimated to be $375 billion a year. That is almost twice as much spent on homecare and nursing home services combined. The services of family caregivers would be impossible to replace with professional agencies or facilities — there simply isn’t the capacity.
You are an essential part of the care system needed to help our nation’s growing population of elders and others experiencing the impact of serious illness. More importantly, you are supporting your loved one with the kind of personal care that can enable him or her to stay at home for as long as possible.
The personal toll of this role burdens caregivers with an extra challenge — how can they care for themselves while doing everything necessary to care for their loved ones?
According to the Evercare Study of Caregivers in Decline: A Close-Up Look at Health Risks of Caring for a Loved One:
- Nearly 75% of family caregivers report not going to the doctor as often as they should
- 55% say they skip doctor appointments for themselves
- 63% of caregivers report having poorer eating habits than non-caregivers
- 58% indicate worse exercise habits than before caregiving responsibilities
If you recognize yourself in any of these statistics, here are some helpful tips to strengthen your resilience so you can continue this journey in the most sustainable way possible. Your health, and the care of your loved one, deserves nothing less.
Suggestions for Coping
- Take a break. Allow yourself some time away, even if it is only for a few minutes. A short break can make a world of difference.
- Get some rest. When the person you are caring for sleeps or naps, you should too. Don’t use this time to get other things done if you are feeling tired.
- Let someone know what you are going through and how you feel. Someone who just listens can be a great source of strength.
- Join a support group. Sharing with others who are going through a similar experience can be very helpful.
- Accept your limitations. No one can be the perfect caregiver. It’s okay to make mistakes.
- Allow yourself to laugh. Appreciate the humorous moments. Laughter can renew your spirits.
- Take care of your health. Eat a healthy diet, get plenty of physical activity and rest. Don’t put off your own medical care.
- Avoid isolation. Get out of the house when possible by pursuing a hobby, taking a class, or becoming active in a community organization.
- Ask for help. This can be very difficult, especially at first. Don’t hesitate to make use of the support that is available to you.
If your loved one has been diagnosed with a serious illness, hospice services can be a vital support for caregivers, patients and family members, covered by Medicare and all private insurance. It’s best to get the information on the range of services available before there’s a crisis or emergency.
About the Author
Melissa Weidman is Director of Community Relations and Outreach for HopeHealth. She can be reached at (800) 642-2423 or MWeidman@HopeHealthCo.org.
This article is reprinted from the January 2017 issue of the South Shore Senior News.