Getting Healthy: Successful Tips for Family Caregivers
The fresh start of a new year brings the promise of getting back on track, especially if you feel your life has derailed or is heading in the wrong direction. If you are a family caregiver, you’re at risk of your caregiving responsibilities overtaking your personal life, leaving you in compromised health. January is the perfect time to exhale and give yourself permission to invest in your own well-being for 2015.
Perhaps it’s time to cut back after indulging on holiday sweets or get back to exercise and more sleep. Or, maybe you need to plan times of quiet to just do nothing. With some honest introspection and consistent determination, taking care of you will soon be more than a fading New Year’s resolution.
“Family caregivers offer a loving and admirable gift in providing for their ill or elderly loved ones,” said Denise Bernstein, Right at Home Bux/Philly Owner. “But the day-to-day responsibility of caring for another person can deplete one’s health. Over time, stress, fatigue and discouragement can build and implode, affecting the entire family. To proactively prevent this, we encourage every family caregiver to regularly reassess and practice intentional self-care.”
The ongoing giving and nurturing of caregiving can produce physical and emotional symptoms and lead to eventual burnout. The American Psychological Association reports that 40 to 70 percent of family caregivers exhibit “clinically significant symptoms of depression” with up to half of these caregivers immersed in major depression. Headaches, backaches, high blood pressure and a weakened immune system are other ailments that affect worn-down family caregivers.
Bernstein recommends the following ways to help family caregivers boost their own health this year:
- Keep exercise simple. Work out at the gym five days a week. Walk an hour every day. Lofty exercise goals do not mix well with a busy caregiving schedule. Instead, look for ways to blend exercise into your week. Park the car at the far end of the parking lot and walk quickly to the store. Do stretches and ride an exercise bike while watching TV. While your loved one naps, reserve 20 minutes to take a brisk walk outside or climb indoor stairs.
- Eat smart, the smart way. “Lose weight” is one of the most common New Year’s goals, but also one of the most common resolutions to fail. To avoid the pitfall of returning to poor eating habits, try making small changes in your daily diet. Substitute fresh, nutritious fruits and vegetables for calorie-laden snacks and desserts. Drink more water and less soda and juices. Gradual changes in what you eat can lead to steady weight loss, with the extra pounds staying off.
- Guard your stress level. Some days just naturally simmer with tension and anxiety. Your loved one is in more pain, the feeding tube clogs, or the pharmacy can’t refill the medication. Learn to recognize your stress buttons and plan for ways to decompress. Step outside in the sunshine for mood-lifting vitamin D or drink a latte with your feet up. Anticipating stress is one way to conquer it before it conquers you.
- Plan for respite breaks. Give yourself a break … literally. Caregiving can consume you, if you let it. Make sure you circle days on the calendar each month to connect with friends, go out to eat, watch a movie or stay over at a spa resort. Getting away refreshes your mind, body and spirit and improves your communication and patience with your loved ones.
- Connect with support resources. Hiring a professional caregiver to help with care for your loved one or home tasks may be the wisest investment you make for 2015. An home care professional can help you stay ahead of the cooking, mail, laundry, cleaning and errands for your loved one. Adult day care centers also can provide much-needed support.
“Today is the day to take a personal inventory of your health,” Bernstein notes. “It is your time to seize the moment and the year. It is your time to take back your health and move forward as an even more loving and effective caregiver. You are worth it and so is your family.”