Caregivers are expected to be strong and healthy, but what happens if the caregiver gets sick? As the operator of a home care agency, I could always tell when a caregiver who was calling on the phone to order service was at a breaking point. Their voices were very stressed and they were almost in a panic. Often, as they described their situation, you could hear the tears welling up inside of them. These were individuals who have taken on a tremendous load and were in need of support. Unfortunately, they waited too long and the stress of being a caregiver had already taken its toll, but it does not have to be that way.
If you are the primary caregiver of older parents or an ailing spouse, you need to be very careful not to let the situation overwhelm you. While this sounds easier said than done, there are steps you can take to prevent burnout. Here are a few points that can help.
- Look for help. Allow others to help and don't feel that you have to be the one to do everything. There are numerous ways to get help for your loved one depending on your needs, location and financial situation. Here are a few:
- Contact the Office on Aging and ask about respite programs. Usually, most counties have programs that will pay for a limited number of hours of home care services, free of charge. This program is designed to give you a break and allow you to get out of the house.
- If you qualify for Medicaid, there may be programs available which would pay for either home care or adult day care services.
- If the person has a serious illness, consider hiring hospice. You do not have to wait until the illness is at the end stages to get help.
- Ask relatives or close friends to help out.
- Get some exercise. Exercise can help you reduces stress, keep your body strong, strengthen your immune system and just make you feel good. Some of the best exercises are walking or biking. These are easy to do, gets your heart rate into the aerobic zone, burns calories and gives you a chance to clear your head. Some excellent mind/body exercises include yoga, tai chi and Qi gong. Make time to exercise and you will reap the rewards.
- Eat well. Like exercise, eating a well balanced diet helps you feel good, helps avoid being sick and gives you the energy you need to be a caregiver.
- Learn relaxation techniques. Deep breathing, meditation and some of the mind/body exercise mentioned above can be tremendously helpful. An easy breathing technique is to inhale through your nose four a count of four, filling your belly with air, not your chest. Hold your breath for a count of seven and then exhale through your mouth for a count of eight. Do a few repetitions at a time. This can really help calm the nerves when practiced regularly.
- Get an adequate amount of sleep. The fastest way to get run down is never getting enough sleep. If you find you are caring for your loved one at night, try to hire a person for overnights if this is possible. If you have siblings, ask them to chip in financially if they are not able to share some of the actual hands on care.
While it can be very difficult to do many of the suggestions listed above, you must understand that if you get run down and sick, the problem is greatly magnified. You must be firm in demanding time to care for yourself and most importantly, you must not feel guilty. You are doing a great and honorable thing by being a caregiver, but it must not completely take over your life.
If you do not know where to turn, consider hiring a professional geriatric care manager. While they can be a bit costly, it is often money well spent as their years of experience are focused on helping seniors and their families when in need.
Lastly, an excellent resource for finding senior related business is a website called CareGrade, found at http://www.caregrade.com. Here you will find a listing of local services and be able to read reviews written by professional geriatric care managers.