Caring for an aging adult is a very trying task that can take much of your time and concentration. The typical caregiver donates some 21 hours per week and has done this for about the last four years. Helping care for the aging, sick and dying loved one takes a heavy emotional toll on oneself.
A recent study shows that one out of three caregivers rate their stress level as high, and half say they have neglected their immediate family and friends to accomplish those caregiving tasks. There are some 42 million caregivers across the nation who are dedicating a large portion of their time to the care of an aging family member. In today’s society, with immediate family many times living out of state, the availability of sharing this task may be very limited.
The most important responsibility you have is to take care of yourself. Surveys show that caregiving affects both the mental and physical health in a negative manner. Caring for yourself is essential to avoid burnout, high stress and your inability to accomplish the service to your loved one. The following points can aid you in a successful and continued caregiving role.
1. Stay positive. Avoid negativity. Avoid conflicts with siblings and other relatives when possible. Do not dwell on what you cannot do but focus on what you can do and have done for your loved one and the rewards you have experienced for doing so.
2. Say “no” with conviction. Realize that you can’t do everything, and resist the urge to take on more responsibilities or financial obligations. Do not feel guilty about not taking on further duties in your already taxed life.
3. Keep organized. Make to-do lists and carry them with you. Prioritize your responsibilities with your service to your loved one and to your personal life. None of us can accomplish everything required of us.
4. Find time to relax. Do something you enjoy to re- activate your positive thinking. Prayer can be very beneficial.
5. Deal with your current feelings. Do not hold in your emotions. Share feelings with a trusted friend or relative. Seek council with a caregiver support group in your area or online.
6. Take a break. Seek out short-term help to give you time away. Think about possible sources with friends, relatives or temporary in-home health professionals. Some assisted living and nursing homes can provide temporary respite care.
7. Contact federally funded resources. All counties have aging in place agencies to aid with the process. In Marion County and the surrounding counties it is CICOA at 317-254-5465.
8. Ask for help. Make a list of what needs to be done and seek help from others that can lighten your load and responsibilities.
9. Keep connected to friends. Take time to get together with friends, relatives and your church group. Isolation from these valuable contacts increases your stress.
10. Put your physical needs first. Eat nutritious foods at mealtime, get enough sleep and exercise. Your continued health is most important during this time of service to others.
The following websites will be of help to you in finding solutions to your daily challenges:
•National Alliance for Caregiving: caregiving.org
•National Council on Aging: ncoa.org
•National Association of Retired People AARP: aarp.org/home-family/caregiving
•National Family Caregivers Assoc.: thefamilycaregiver.org
Dean McFarland is a board member for the Central Indiana Council on Aging.