What about the Caregiver? Caregiving and Staying Healthy

Ana Araujo,
Manager of Social Work

How do you take care of yourself? Many family caregivers are often unsure how to answer this question. The idea of finding time for themselves is a foreign concept. They have not taken a vacation in a few years. Meetings with friends are limited and seeing a doctor for themselves may occur once in a while. There is no doubt that caring for a person with dementia is challenging and exhausting. Too often caregiving responsibilities become the priority and self-care is placed on the back burner.

Many caregivers report feeling exhausted, overwhelmed and run-down. When asked about recent doctors’ appointments, some report that they have not seen their doctor in years. Whether it’s due to lack of time, competing responsibilities or exhaustion, appointments are canceled or rescheduled. However, in moments like these we encourage caregivers to put themselves first. In order to provide the best care for the person with dementia, it is important to find a healthy balance between the caregiver’s needs and the needs of the person for whom they are caring.

Below you will find some suggestions that may help during your caregiving journey.

Prioritize your health. Our bodies tell us if something is wrong; read between the lines. A big part of staying healthy is being able to take care of yourself during stressful situations. Caregivers are often at risk of becoming ill. Make it a goal to schedule and keep doctors’ appointments. Avoid skipping meals and try to eat heathfully and regularly in order to give your body the energy it needs every day.

Give yourself a break from time to time. Plan activities that you can look forward to. Watching a movie, meeting friends for coffee, reading a book or listening to music are ways to take a break. Doing something enjoyable helps to balance some of the more challenging tasks.

Allow time to exercise. Exercising is extremely important for both physical and mental health. Having the opportunity to go for a run, a walk, or even take a yoga class can help relieve some of the stressors that come with caregiving. Exercising can help you feel better about yourself and serve as a distraction especially during difficult days. Removing yourself from the stressful environment, even for a few hours, can give you an opportunity to process what has happened.

Get help in the home. Ask a friend or family member to pitch in a few times a week. The beginning may be a bit challenging, but after a while, everyone starts to feel comfortable. If you do not have a friend or family member that can help, consider hiring a professional caregiver. It may be difficult to allow someone new into your home and care for your parent, spouse or friend. The reality is that care will not be exactly like what you would provide. Allow that person to learn about you and the person with dementia in order to manage some of their needs when you are gone. Eventually, you will be able to develop a good working and trusting relationship.

Process your feelings. Being able to talk about the stressors of caregiving in a safe environment is extremely important. It is completely understandable that the feelings of frustration, stress and anger sometimes arise. Speaking with a professional may help you process these feelings and brainstorm options for self-care. At times, caregivers find themselves holding back from expressing their concerns with friends or family members. A support group is the perfect opportunity to share your thoughts with people in similar situations.

Be kind to yourself. Along with the stressors of caregiving sometimes the caregivers feel guilty. Know that there is no such thing as “perfect” and that you are doing the best you can given the challenges. You may not be able to attend every doctor’s appointment, yoga class or meeting with friends. Try setting a goal to complete some of these activities. It’s important to not judge yourself for not completing a task and give yourself permission to not be perfect all of the time.

Let us help you! Whether you are in need of assistance with care planning, searching for counseling services, joining a support group or brainstorming other ways to take care of yourself, our social work team is here for you. Scheduling an appointment with one of our social workers can be the first step to putting your needs first. Please contact our 24-hour Helpline at 646-744-2900 and ask to speak with a social worker.

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