Caregivers: Please, Take Care of Yourself. Or You Won’t be able to Take Care of Others
Refresh yourself with a quick getaway.
Feeling overwhelmed, exhausted, and guilty? Trying to “do it all” and not feeling successful? Whether caring for your adult parents, an ailing spouse, or other relative, you could be a victim of “caregiver burnout” and you’re not alone.
According to the Agency on Aging, more than seven million people are providing informal caregiver services for friends and loved ones.
Caregiving is physically, mentally and emotionally draining. The day-in and day-out needs of everyone involved take their toll. Respite care is a great way to help alleviate some of the stress of caregiving.
What is respite care? “Respite” refers to short term, temporary care to provide relief to caregivers of the infirm or disabled. Respite care can from a few hours to run errands to a slightly longer period involving overnight stays.
Caregivers often indicate they are not sure they will “out-survive” the people for whom they are caring; thus, there are often two “at-risk” persons in the making: the caregiver and the person cared for.
Respite care is offered to help caregivers and their families relieve stress and give them an opportunity to resume normal activities for a short duration.
Where can caregivers find help?
The enactment of the Older Americans Act Amendments of 2000 (Public Law 106-501) established an important new program, the National Family Caregiver Support Program (NFCSP). The program was developed by the Administration on Aging (AoA) of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).
Funded at $125 million in fiscal year 2001, approximately $113 million has been allocated to states through a congressionally mandated formula that is based on a proportionate share of the 70+ population. The program calls for all states, working in partnership with area agencies on aging and local community-service providers to have five basic services for family caregivers, including caregiving responsibilities; and supplemental services, on a limited basis, to complement the care provided by caregivers.
The Eldercare Locator is a nationwide, directory assistance service designed to help older persons and caregivers locate local support resources for aging Americans. Click for more information.
The local AAA is one of the first resources a caregiver should contact when help is needed. Almost every state has one or more AAA, which serves local communities, older residents, and their families. (In a few states, the State Unit or Office on Aging serves as the AAA.) Local AAA’s are generally listed in the city or county government sections of the telephone directory under “Aging” or “Social Services.” (Source U.S. Administration on Aging)
A Quick Getaway
When the time is right for a longer break, think creatively. You want to use the time to do something that is relaxing and refreshing. A three-day weekend at a resort is a wonderful thought but may not be in your budget. Call your local travel agent to check on mini-vacation specials. Go on a bus tour of a scenic area – preferably one you’ve never visited. Check with friends who might be willing to loan out their house. Visit a religious retreat. Go camping in a National Forest or even your backyard. If you miss going to the movies, check into a local motel with your VCR, rent a bunch of movies, make some popcorn and lay back! The key is to take a break from everyday life and the associated stresses so you return energized.
Common Warning Signs of Caregiver Burnout
- Extreme fatigue, lack of concentration and insomnia
- Depression and loss of the ability to cope with everyday things
- Denial about the severity/outcome of the illness
- Misdirected anger towards others, including the patient
- General irritability
- Mood swings
- Withdrawal from activities and friends
- Lack of appetite
- Expression of anxiety about the future
- General health problems
- Rate each question by how true it is: seldom, sometimes, often, or usually.
- I find I can’t get enough rest.
- I don’t have enough time for myself.
- I don’t have time to be with other family members besides the person I care for.
- I feel guilty about my situation.
- I don’t get out much anymore.
- I have a conflict with the person I care for.
- I have conflicts with other family members.
- I cry every day.
- I worry about having enough money to make ends meet.
- I don’t feel I have enough knowledge or experience to give care as well as I’d like.
- My own health is not good.
If the response to one or more of these areas is usually true or often true it may be time to begin looking for help with caring for the care-receiver and help in taking care of yourself.
Try to eat three balanced meals daily, add a multivitamin supplement if you are unable to do so.
Exercise on a regular basis. You’ll not only have more energy, but you’ll also get rid of stress.
- Get at least eight hours of sleep daily.
Maintain Your Emotional Health
Set aside at least thirty minutes a day, just for you. If this is too much at one time, then try two fifteen-minute breaks. It doesn’t matter what you do, read, sew, or just sit in your rocker, make it something that you enjoy.
- Change your routine on a regular basis; don’t get stuck in a rut.
Maintain Your Mental Health
Learn and use some type of relaxation exercises. Yoga and meditation are both helpful but even guided imagery can help.
- If you’re not comfortable with relaxation techniques, listen to soothing music or read something that personally uplifts you.
- Realize that it’s okay to feel guilty, stressed, and even angry.
- Try to find one good thing about a bad day. Maybe something as simple as the sun is shining.
Communication and Support
Let your family and/or friends know when you need help. They can’t read your mind and you’ll be surprised at the amount of support you’ll receive.
- Even if you have assistance from your family and/or friends, try to find a support group for caregivers in your local area.
Laughter is the Best Medicine
Try to see the lighter side of things, especially when you feel stressed.
- Take a break and watch a funny movie; read a funny book; share humorous stories with others.
- When you find yourself frowning, stop and smile. You’ll be surprised at what that can do for your mood.
Remember, if your care receiver doesn’t have a smile, share one of yours.
Feel free to modify and add your own statement(s) of rights to this list. Remember to read the list to yourself every day.
I have the right . . .
To take care of myself. This is not an act of selfishness. It will give me the capacity to take better care of my relative.
To seek help from others even though my relative may object. I recognize the limits of my endurance and strength.
To maintain facets of my own life that do not include the person I care for, just as I would if he or she were healthy. I know that I do everything that I reasonably can for this person, and I have the right to do some things just for myself.
To get angry, be depressed and express other difficult feelings occasionally.
To reject any attempt by my relative (either conscious or unconscious) to manipulate me through guilt, anger or depression.
To receive consideration, affection, forgiveness, and acceptance for what I do from my loved one for as long as I offer these qualities in return.
To take pride in what I am accomplishing and to applaud the courage it has sometimes taken to meet the needs of my relative.
To protect my individuality and my right to make a life for myself that will sustain me in the time when my relative no longer needs my full-time help.
To expect and demand that as new strides are made in finding resources to aid physically and mentally impaired older persons in our country, similar strides will be made toward aiding and supporting caregivers.
To ______________________________________________ [add your statement of rights]
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