Family Caregivers: One of Life’s Toughest Roles

family-caregivers-002As a noun, “care” means to provide what is necessary for health and welfare. As a verb, it means to attach importance to something.

Caregivers manage to do both: providing for daily needs while doing so in a manner that says the recipient means something to them. But often, balancing the tasks with the tenderness means caregivers can forget to take care of themselves.

In honor of National Family Caregivers Month, take just a few minutes to read about how you can—and why you should—take care of yourself. Some liken it to the instructions given in an airplane: put on your oxygen mask before attempting to help someone else. And for good reason; the stress and worry that come along with caring for an ill relative often can threaten the health of the caregiver.

Caregivers face an increased risk of depression and chronic illness. They are more likely to report sleep deprivation, poor eating habits, a failure to exercise or postponement of medical appointments. They also are more likely to have high cholesterol, high blood pressure and be overweight.

Caregivers encounter significant stresses. For older caregivers, such as those caring for a spouse, mental and emotional strain along with prolonged stress and physical demands of caregiving can lead to significant health problems, even an earlier death. For those caring for a parent or child, juggling work and other family responsibilities can lead to severe stress.

Family caregivers report feeling overwhelmed and alone. They may feel tired and lose interest in other activities. Worry can alternate with anger. Pain and headaches may be frequent.

Caring for a relative can take a toll on the caregiver. But it’s OK to put your needs first at times, so that you can remain healthy as you care for your loved one. Some tips:

  • Reduce stress. Determine what is causing your stress and identify what, if any, changes you can make. Even small changes can make a big difference, particularly if they enable the caregiver to feel some measure of control. Identify stress reducers and find a way to work them into your schedule. This can be as simple as going for a walk, gardening or having coffee with a friend.
  • Seek solutions, particularly those that might allow more time for you to take care of yourself. This may mean asking for assistance from other family members, finding respite care or taking advantages of other resources, such as in-home care.
  • Be willing to ask for help—or respond when someone offers. When a loved one is ill, people want to help, but often don’t know how. Be prepared with a list of ways that they can do so, such as picking up a few things from the grocery store or filling out insurance papers.

In honor of National Family Caregivers Month, if you are a caregiver, be sure to take a few minutes for yourself. If you know a family caregiver, make sure to let them know how appreciated they are, and encourage them to practice self-care.

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