Advice to help you cope and stay healthy as a caregiver
Much is being written about caring for a loved one, but there is hardly a topic more complicated and heartbreaking than this caregiver topic for many Canadians. Whether your loved one is recuperating from an illness or surgery, has been diagnosed with cancer, or has a chronic condition such as dementia many families are asking themselves, what does it mean to care for my loved one?
It may range from taking that person to medical appointments to helping them with such necessities of life as bathing and dressing, making meals and monitoring medication, or even serving as a companion so that they stay engaged and don’t slide downhill.
Acting as a caregiver can be tough, but it’s an important and necessary role as we help loved ones recuperate or manage their care. For many people caring for a loved one is a meaningful and gratifying experience. For others it can be daunting and a highly frustrating and demanding challenge.
“At Home Instead we see families who are torn apart caring for loved ones,” reveals Bruce Mahony of Home Instead Senior Care in Toronto. “While the primary caregiver may feel over-burdened, other family members may feel ignored or helpless if they can’t be around as much as they would like.”
Often siblings or adult grandchildren have their own views on what’s best for their loved one. One solution is for each member to own one area of care (medical, personal care, finances), thereby empowering each family member with responsibility while also alleviating some of the demand.
“Caring for someone when you don’t live close by and can’t be there regularly is another challenge we often encounter,” said Mahony. “Home Instead caregivers can visit for a few hours a week, take your loved one out for a meal, to appointments, or run errands.”
Even with assistance, the challenge for caregivers is they become consumed with taking care of their loved one and neglect to care for themselves. Understandably self-care is one of the best things you can do for yourself, but it’s also one of the best things you can do for your loved one.
To keep from burning out, make sure you:
- Eat healthfully – Comfort foods may make you feel better in the moment, but a balanced and healthy diet will help you maintain your energy over the long-term.
- Exercise regularly – While it may feel like a chore, exercise releases endorphins and helps your body fight stress.
- Try to get a good night’s sleep – A full 8 hours every night may not always be possible, but protecting your sleep should be a priority. If your sleep is interrupted and you need to take a nap during the day, do not exceed short, 15-20 minute naps or you’ll find it difficult to sleep through the night.
- Stay home if you’re not feeling well – You’re of no help to anyone if you’re not feeling well and your body will take longer to recover if you don’t allow it to fight off illness.
- Keep up to date on your medical appointments – Your health is just as important as your loved-one’s. Don’t ignore warning signs and make sure to speak with your doctor about your own health challenges.
- Take care of your own emotional and mental health – Caregivers often put themselves under tremendous pressure and taking care of your mental health is important. Home Instead offers links (Caregiverstress.com) and online tools to help you assess your stress level and methods to cope with caregiver stress, allowing your family caregiving role to be more rewarding. Another great resource is CAMH (camh.ca).
“It’s tough for many people to talk about, but caregivers face depression, resentment and guilt as they travel the journey with their loved one,” said Mahony. “As a caregiver you build support networks around your loved ones, but you need to build a support network for yourself too.”
For more information, call Bruce Mahony at 416-972-5096 or use the contact form.