According to a recent 2020 report by the National Alliance for Caregiving, there are over 53 million caregivers in the U.S. That is roughly one in five people that are providing unpaid care to an adult with health or functional needs. November is National Family Caregivers Month and a time to recognize and celebrate the contributions of those that so unselfishly give of their time and energy to their family and friends.
Caregiving is hard work, but it is often very rewarding and can give the caregiver a sense of relief knowing that their loved one is being well taken care of. However, the demands of caregiving can quite often take a toll on the health and well-being of the caregiver. The exhaustion and worry of continuous care can be very stressful on the caregiver and often leads to sleep deprivation, poor eating habits, and lack of exercise. Caregivers are more likely to develop chronic illnesses such as high blood pressure and obesity. They are also at an increased risk for depression, as well as alcohol and drug abuse.
While you cannot stop the impact of chronic illness or injury of your family member or friend, as a caregiver you can take responsibility for your own health and well-being. Here are some effective tools that caregivers can use to make sure they are caring for themselves so they can continue to be there for their loved ones:
- Set personal health goals: Get a plan in place and set goals to establish a good sleep routine, find time to be physically active on most days of the week, eat a healthy diet and drink plenty of water. These health changes will help you think more clearly and have more energy to take on your caregiving tasks.
- Accept help: When others offer to help, don’t turn them away. It gives the person helping a chance to do something for you as well as giving you a break. Make a list of things that would be helpful to you such as letting someone run an errand, cook a meal, or just sit with your loved one while you take a walk or a nap.
- Seek support: Find out about caregiving resources in your community. There may be transportation, housekeeping or delivery services that would be a benefit to you. There are often community support classes for specific illnesses/diseases that might provide useful information on caring for your loved one and also a place of encouragement and support for you.
It is not selfish to focus on your own needs and desires when you are a caregiver. It is actually a very important part of the job. Make it a priority to incorporate some of these self-care tips and you’ll find that by taking better care of yourself, you’ll be able to better serve your loved one.