There are over 60 million Americans who are caregivers to family, friends and neighbors. November is National Family Caregivers month and a great time to remind our caregivers to also take care of themselves. Caregiving can often be a 24/7 job and can have a significant impact on their life in more ways than one. It can be hard on anyone despite the great sense of reward they may feel. If you are a caregiver, your own self-care is the best present you can provide to the person you care for.
One of the biggest ways to take care of yourself as a caregiver is to be mindful of your own health. If you become run-down, get the flu or are just not well, who will fill your shoes, whether temporarily or permanently? Caregivers need to pay attention to physical and emotional symptoms that can affect their health and well-being. If you are a caregiver, try to create balance between caring for others and yourself. It’s important to get regular physical activity as part of your self-care. Even just 20 minutes walking can help relieve stress and give those muscles a workout. Caregivers should also get regular check-ups and not ignore possible symptoms of ill health. You can’t take care of your loved one if you are sick yourself. It’s equally important to check in on your own mental health from time to time. Since 2014, over 250,000 caregivers have taken a screening through Mental Health America and over 75% of them showed moderate or severe symptoms of a mental health condition, like depression disorders. Anyone can take a free, anonymous and confidential screen at www.mhascreening.org to check on their mental health.
Another way to take care of yourself as a caregiver is to make sure you have consistent breaks from your caregiving responsibilities. This is called respite. Research shows that even a few hours of respite a week can improve a caregiver’s well-being. It can take the form of different types of services in the home, adult day care or even short-term nursing home care so caregivers can have a break or even go on vacation. Respite can be also provided many different ways. Family and friends can help offer respite by taking care of a caregiving task or a block of time you would like help with. Be ready when someone says, “What can I do to help?” with a specific time or task, such as, “It would be really helpful for me if you could stay with Mom Tuesday night so I can go run errands for two hours.” Your doctor or your care recipient’s doctor may be able to help find respite care for your loved one or another recommendation that could help. Another great source for respite services in our area is the Area Office on Aging of Northwestern Ohio at 419-382-0624 or www.areaofficeonaging.com. Taking even a short respite break is a key part of maintaining your own health as a caregiver.
Remember to be a good caregiver, you must take care of yourself. Your loved one is counting on you.