Caregivers Need Care Too
By: Nancy Tikunoff, IMH
We’ve all seen them - at the doctor’s office, at the grocery store, crossing the street... They may have been pushing a wheelchair, feeding an Alzheimer’s patient who had forgotten to eat or holding the hand of a differently abled person while crossing the street. These everyday examples that cross our paths are people giving care to others in a physical, tangible way and are classified “caregivers”. They may be the last ones to eat and five minutes of quiet alone to prop up their feet may feel live a slice of heaven. They have accepted and committed to a daunting task – taking care of the physical, oftentimes emotional and additional needs of someone they love or care about. It can be a thankless job and requires sacrifices of things they would rather be doing or money they would like to have to spend elsewhere or time spent on hobbies or other interests.
No wonder November has been designated as a month to recognize these awesome people and THEIR needs. If you are a caregiver reading this, you may be asking “What, I have needs?” Or maybe you know about your needs but don’t see any way to get them met without taking away from the person you care for. Don’t despair – there is help out there. Here are some tips to ensure that caregivers don't burn out as they care for others:
· Self care: As a caregiver, your own needs can be put on hold for only so long before you start to deteriorate yourself. When that happens, your ability to provide care for your loved one is impaired. This is the #1 motivation to take care of yourself: so that you are able to provide the best care for the one(s) you care for. We can easily recognize the need for this self-care in an extreme example of a young mother of two that didn’t eat because “she just didn’t have time with everything I have to do”. Before long, she would collapse and faint onto the floor, be unavailable to meet anyone’s needs and now be in need of a caregiver herself. How often do we say we don’t have time to take to do some little thing that would renew us? Instead of performing another chore while the loved one naps, why not make yourself a cup of coffee, sit outside on the porch and watch nature or call a friend? Do the dishes really have to be done right now or is it more important to take a few minutes to take care of yourself? A refreshed person is more energetic, patient and able to regulate the emotions that can come with the caregiving task such as anger, depression and anxiety.
· It's OK to ask for help: You’ve taken on a big job for just one person so it’s reasonable to ask for help. A local community agency, your family members, your neighbor, a fellow church member ; someone is willing and able. Don’t get discouraged if the first one or two say no – you just haven’t figured out who is available yet. Spread the requests for help around among who is available so that nobody feels overwhelmed. Ask for help with those tasks that don’t require you to do them. You may be the one that needs to pick a prescription at the pharmacy but someone else could mow the lawn. Going it alone is one of the main reasons why caregivers get discouraged, feel overwhelmed and become isolated. Don’t try to go it alone – you don’t have to!
· Take advantage of support systems: There are different ways to get the assistance that you need as a caregiver – whether it’s emotional support, financial support or information/education that you need. Caregiver mutual aid groups can offer a great deal of encouragement in the form of emotional sustenance, by providing a social outlet and offering a forum for you to learn what you need to know in taking care of your loved one. These groups can be found in face-to-face encounters and online. Other means of support can be found through local hospitals, churches and other agencies that offer support groups, lectures about various illnesses and can give you needed contacts and referrals. There is a plethora of websites that can be located online for the purposes of learning (now what was that drug for?) and to connect with local services to enable you to continue to care for your loved one (maybe you need a wheelchair ramp built). Many local Area Agency on Aging centers can guide you towards a solution.
Here are some resource links that may be helpful:
Thank you for being a care-giving champion. Even if no-one else ever acknowledges the value of what you’re doing, we know who you are and YOU MATTER.