You may have heard or read that being a caregiver for a loved one is one of the most difficult jobs that a person can have, but until you are living it for yourself, you will not realize how much the role demands of you. Caring for another person is physically and emotionally draining, but the true impact often takes time to take full effect. To ensure that you, as the caregiver, can look after your family member, you need to look after yourself. This guide highlights the importance of self-care for people who are caring for an elderly relative or a family member with physical and/or mental disabilities.
Do not take on more than you can handle
The first point to make is that it is not always possible for family members to provide their loved ones with the care they need. While you may wish to enable them to continue to live independently or move into your home, in the long term, this may not be the best solution for them or you. For example, if you have an elderly relative who has Alzheimer’s and/or dementia, it could lead to persistent physical and emotional stress for everyone, so moving them to an assisted living facility specializing in memory care may be the better choice.
Take care of your own health
Studies have found that a caregiver is much more likely to neglect their own physical health, ignore symptoms of illness, and less likely to visit a doctor. This will only end in the deterioration of the caregiver’s health, which may mean they will be unable to care for their family member. It is not selfish to look after your own health, as it is best for both parties in the long run. Remember to eat a balanced and nutritious diet, drink plenty of water, and stick to a regular sleep routine.
Set aside time for yourself
Being a caregiver is often such a demanding job because you are always at work and/or on call. From first thing in the morning until you go to bed (and sometimes during the night), you are always on alert if not physically caring for them. This can cause people to burn out if they do not make time for themselves. Try to carve out some time each day for an activity which you enjoy, such as reading, exercising, taking a walk, or enjoying a coffee with friends.
Take a vacation
It is also important to take at least one vacation each year when you spend a couple of weeks away from your role as a caregiver. Another family member may be able to take over while you are gone, or you might consider hiring a professional caregiver or respite care center.
Make sure you have support
Family and friends should be able to give support, so do not try to take on too much. Often our family members do not realize how much help they could provide simply by running the odd errand or stepping in to give you a couple of hours to yourself, so be sure to ask when you need them.
Look for helpful products and equipment
There may be products and equipment which could help you to care for your family member, so be sure to do your research. If they struggle to make it up and down the stairs without your help, you may want to invest in a stairlift. If you need to lift them in and out of a chair or a bed, consider a transfer board and/or gait belt to reduce the likelihood of injuring yourself or your loved one.