There are 44 million family caregivers in in the U.S., making up 20 percent of the whole U.S. adult population. Family caregivers make significant sacrifices to provide essential societal and financial contributions toward the health of their loved ones.
Caregivers also face difficult emotions and significant financial burdens. They make noble sacrifices, but these decisions often have a negative impact on their mental and physical wellbeing. With unpaid family caregivers on the rise, the need for emotional and physical support has become more prevalent. Here are 16 tips for caregivers to stay happy and healthy.
1. Research and make a list. Learn as much as you can about your loved one’s illness or disability and about how to be a caregiver. The more you know, the less nervous you’ll feel about the tasks you need to perform. You will become a more effective caregiver once you are confident in your actions. Take some time to list all the tasks you will need to carry out. Then decide which tasks you are able to meet. When you create this list, try to be as realistic as possible, taking into consideration your time and energy. The remaining tasks on the list are ones you’ll need to find others to help with (either another family member or a home care agency).
2. Find people like you. It is comforting to know you’re not alone. Join a support group to find others like you. This will help you with the emotional support you need. Often care providers like Wesley Homes offer support groups that are open to the greater community. To join a support group at Wesley Homes, call the Health Center at 206.824.3663.
3. Know your limits and vocalize them. Try to be as realistic about how much of your time and energy you can give. Set defined limits, and communicate those limits to doctors, family members and your loved one.
4. Accept your feelings. Caregiving can trigger difficult emotions, including anger, fear, resentment, guilt, helplessness and grief. It’s important to acknowledge and accept what you’re feeling, both good and bad. Be easy on yourself, and try not to feel guilt or anger about your doubts or misgivings. Remember, your feelings don’t mean that you don’t love your family member; these are all human traits.
5. Encourage independence for yourself and your loved one. Caregiving does not mean doing everything for your loved one. Be open to the help of family members, friends or home care agencies to create an atmosphere of independence for your loved one. Look into available technologies like a Health Monitoring System, Medication Dispenser System, Medication Reminder System or Personal Emergency Response Systems. *Wesley Homes does not endorse specific products. These are just examples of products and services that could be used.
6. Stay social. Make it a priority to see your friends, and don’t let yourself become isolated.
7. Stay happy. Laughter and joy can help keep you going when you face trials, stress and pain.
8. Keep your balance. Don’t give up activities that are important to you, such as your work or your hobbies.
9. Take breaks. Take regular breaks from caregiving, and give yourself an extended break at least once a week.
10. Find a community. Join or reestablish your connection to a religious group, social club or civic organization. The broader your support network, the better.
11. Exercise regularly. Try to get in at least 30 minutes of exercise, three times per week. Exercise is a great way to relieve stress and boost your energy. So get moving, even if you’re tired.
12. Eat right. Well-nourished bodies are better prepared to cope with stress and get through busy days. Keep your energy up and your mind clear by eating nutritious meals at regular times throughout the day.
13. Avoid alcohol and drugs. Excessive drinking or drug use can compromise the quality of your caregiving. Instead, try dealing with problems head on and with a clear mind.
14. Get enough sleep. Try to get eight hours of solid, uninterrupted sleep every night. Sleep is essential to elevate your energy level, improve productivity and maintain your ability to handle stress.
15. Stay healthy. Go to the doctor and dentist on schedule, and keep up with your own prescriptions. You need to stay as strong and healthy as possible.
16. Ask for help. Even if you’re the primary family caregiver, you can’t do everything on your own, especially if you’re caregiving from a distance (classified as more than an hour’s drive from your family member). You’ll need help from friends and other family members, as well as health professionals, including home care aides. If you don’t get the support you need, you’ll burn out quickly. This will significantly compromise your ability to provide care.
If you feel overwhelmed and are physically or mentally unable to give as much of the time or support that is necessary for your loved one, consider receiving extra help from a home care agency. Home care agencies offer a wide variety of services that often include:
- Medication reminders
- Respite / relief care
- Light housekeeping and laundry
- Grocery shopping and errands
- Meal planning and preparation
- Pet care
- Live-in care
- Hygiene assistance
For more information on how Home Care by Wesley can help caregivers receive the support they need, visit homecare.wesleyhomes.org