As with any difficult period you go through in life, caring for a seriously ill loved one is a job you might gladly accept, but the impact on your physical and mental health and your relationship with your family, can be severe. The National Alliance of Caregivers has done extensive research on the subject:
“Nearly three quarters (72%) of family caregivers report not going to the doctor as often as they should and 55% say they skip doctor appointments for themselves.
63% of caregivers report having poor eating habits than non-caregivers and 58% indicate worse exercise habits than before caregiving responsibilities.
20% of employed female caregivers over 50 years old report symptoms of depression compared to 8% of their non-caregiving peers.”
By making you aware of these statistics, we hope you will take a few moments to reflect on just how important taking care of yourself is to the process of providing outstanding support to your loved one who needs you now.
Becoming a caregiver may or may not have been a conscious decision. You may be gladly caring for your spouse or partner out of love and dedication. You feel it is your choice and duty to them and you would not want to be anywhere else during this time.
On the other hand, maybe you are the only child living close to your parent who is facing the end of life. You may be feeling the weight of the responsibility that has become yours. Either way, the path you are on can be a lonely and difficult one, so you should make a conscious effort to take care of yourself both physically and emotionally.
The real challenge is to know yourself and your limitations in order to take care of yourself. This precious time you have to spend with your loved one will be richer if you are healthy and whole.
Here are some ideas for doing just that. We hope some of them will spark your interest and provide you with avenues for caring for yourself in addition to your loved one.
First and foremost, give yourself and your loved one the best outside help and support you can find. You may feel like you have to do this all alone. That is a common misconception. You are most certainly not alone. Hospices, like Hospice of Santa Cruz County can provide a wide range of options for you and your loved one to choose from. A hospice nurse will help develop a plan with you that is just right for your situation.
Educate your self about your loved one’s disease. The more you know, the less fearful it will seem and you will be better equipped to help your loved one if you understand what’s going on. Check out information from the library, online information sources and ask the doctor or your hospice team any questions about things you don’t understand.
Keep a Caregiver’s Notebook. Use it for record keeping or writing down those questions that come up so you don’t forget to ask them later. You can record when medications need to be taken by the patient or changes you notice. The notebook can also include a calendar to keep track of your own appointments so you don’t miss medical appointments, exercise classes, group support meetings or therapy sessions.
On that calendar, make sure you schedule caregiver breaks, which can be provided by one of your hospice team members or family and friends. If you strive to follow your caregiver’s calendar, you will keep yourself healthier and be the best caregiver you can be.
The little things CAN make a difference; things like eating right, exercising, expressing yourself by writing or through art. Watch movies you like with your loved one and invite other family members or friends so you have others around you. If you love books, read them aloud or get books on CD. Your loved one will enjoy them and so will you.
Attend a support group. Emotional health is just as important as physical health. There are many organizations in your community willing to assist with emotional support. Your hospice team members can help you find them. If you don’t feel comfortable in a group setting, try one-on-one counseling through your church or a therapist.
Remember to follow the Cardinal Rule of Caregiving: Take care of yourself so you CAN take care of your loved one.