Preventing Caregiver Burnout
Your loved one is sick or aging. Perhaps it is your parent or your spouse, or even a close friend who has no one else. You feel that the right thing to do is to care for him or her full-time, and you diligently take on the role of primary caregiver, devoting your days and nights to helping with daily chores, doctor appointments, and other tasks.
Unfortunately, if you are facing something like dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, your time as a caregiver could stretch for years and even decades, without any promise of your loved one getting better. The daily care can become more challenging and strenuous, with less and less positive feedback from your loved one.
Along the way, you probably will realize that you need to care for yourself as well, but the daily demands and more urgent needs of your loved one may make it difficult to find the time, or you may feel guilty for asking for help. You may find yourself dealing with emotions like depression or isolation, even getting more irritable with your loved one, or losing interest in things you once really enjoyed.
So how do you battle caregiver burnout?
Caregiving is one of the noblest callings a person can answer in life. It can be challenging both physically and emotionally, and requires self-sacrifice and dedication. Helping someone else make the last years of his or her life as pleasant as possible is no small task, and the reality is that unless a caregiver is careful, this role can impact your own health as well.
In fact, many studies show that being a full-time caregiver can put you at great risk for heart disease and other sicknesses, compared with non-caregivers your same age. It’s not uncommon for the patient to outlive the caregiver if the caregiver does not properly take care of him- or herself, including physical and mental wellbeing.
Keep these five tips in mind as a caregiver, and you could improve the quality of life for both yourself and your loved one.
1. Make time, even a little, for yourself every week.
This could be as simple as a 30-minute walk, a solo trip to the grocery store, a movie in the theater, or even just time to nap. You might need to run a few errands or have some alone time to organize your week and make appointments. Schedule it into your week like a real appointment and do all you can to protect and prioritize this time. Perhaps a friend or family member can come sit with your loved one during your break, or can be in the house during his or her nap in case of emergency. This is a great way to let others help you (see #4 below).
2. Take care of your own health.
This includes exercising, eating healthy foods, drinking plenty or water, and getting enough sleep. Once you begin to scrimp on any of these elements, you’re bound to see a chain reaction in your own body that can range from simple (like weight gain) to more serious (like heart disease). If you have difficulty prioritizing your health in this way, remind yourself that you cannot be the best caregiver you can be without a healthy body. Help your loved one by helping yourself.
3. Get the support you need.
Whether through online groups or in person, caregiver support groups can be a lifeline to help you through your most difficult days. Being able to talk to others who have “been there” can help battle feelings of isolation. These peers may also have helpful ideas or solutions to challenges you’re currently facing, and can show you how life may change in the future, and how you can adapt. Just knowing that you’re not alone in your struggles can be a huge lift to your spirits.
4. Just say yes.
It can be challenging to accept help from other people, but seriously consider taking people up on their offers to help. It may not be in your nature, so focus on the fact that you are actually giving others the joy that comes from helping. It’s a good idea to have a list of simple tasks that can be accomplished by anyone so that you’re ready when an offer comes along. Then the key then is to let go and trust that it will get completed with micromanaging the volunteer; keep in mind that they are doing their best to help you and your loved one, and even the smallest bit of help can make a big difference.
5. Consider respite care.
If you are acting as the primary caregiver, and don’t have a network of friends or family nearby, you can find the help you need by hiring in-home assistance for just a few hours a day or week. Agencies call this “respite care” and it is specifically designed to provide relief to caregivers who need a bit of time away from the home to run errands, take a break, go to appointments, or just have a breather. Again, recharging your batteries may make you an even better caregiver, so do what you can to give yourself the time.
By serving another person as a caregiver, you are giving so much of yourself to help him or her. Be sure to be just as kind to your own body and spirit, to help ensure you can keep on giving your best with a smile on your face and kindness in your heart.
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