The cost of hiring a caregiver can be substantial. In fact, cost is one reason why approximately 40.4 million Americans provide unpaid care to an adult 65 years or older — one in five on a daily basis. Demands for perpetual care, no personal time, guilt, isolation and financial pressure are just a few of the many stressful side effects a caretaker endures. Without proper management, this scenario could prompt one to turn to drugs, alcohol, or another addictive behavior. If you’re new to the world of caregiver, you may not know how to balance your old life with your new responsibilities — but it all starts with self-care.
Take Regular Breaks
Taking regular breaks (20-30 minutes for a minimum of once or twice a day) is key if you want to avoid caregiver burnout. It can be difficult to do without feeling guilty, but accept the fact that you need to make time for yourself. Take control and don’t ask your loved one for permission to take a break, and don’t wait until you feel ragged. It’s important that you keep enough gas in your proverbial tank to keep going. When you do have time to yourself, fill it with quality activities that make you happy or refreshed, such as a drawing a bubble bath, taking a catnap, engaging in a hobby such as reading or knitting, or calling a friend — just don’t talk about your caregiving duties. In the event that you’ll be leaving the house, have a trusted network of friends, family and neighbors to fill in — budget for an hourly helper if nobody is available.
If you can’t find an hour or so each day for yourself, it may be time to ask for help. If other family members are unable to step in, consider outsourcing some of the less enjoyable tasks. Hiring a trustworthy cleaning service and lawn care company can free up several, valuable hours each week. If you can afford it, consider utilizing the services at both your home and your loved one’s. This will double the amount of time you have for your own self-care.
Don’t Neglect Your Own Health
As the saying goes, you can’t take care of someone else unless you take care of yourself. Neglecting your own health will only lead to illness, so you won’t be of any use to your loved one — especially if they have a low immune system. Make sure you’re getting enough sleep each night (between seven and nine hours), eat a nutrient-rich diet, take any applicable supplements, and make time for exercise. To make that goal more attainable, consider setting up a home gym so you can work out before you start your day, after your loved one goes to sleep, or when you’re on a break. Try to use a space that has positive energy (not a windowless basement, for example), and start small by only investing in key pieces such as resistance bands, a weighted medicine ball, a yoga mat and dumbbells.
Avoid Social Isolation
Caregiver isolation can lead to depression issues if not addressed from the very start. Ask your friends and family for honest feedback about your current behavior while asking them for help at the same time. If you can’t remember the last time you went out socially, then it’s time to break the cycle by getting help. If cost is an issue and you don’t have anyone who can help and pitch in free of charge, look into discounted caregiving services. There are even lower-cost options for counseling, pharmaceutical and dental assistance programs, and food service, and support groups are available.
While you won’t be able to live your life exactly how it was before you became a caregiver, it’s important that you try to maintain some semblance of normalcy. Weigh all of your options for care and don’t be afraid to accept or ask for help. The more you feel like your best self, the easier it will be to care for your loved one.
Harry ClineThe A-Z Home Care Handbook: Health Management How-Tos for Senior Caregivers