The Healthy Caregiver

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Link to article in Sun Sailor

By CEO, Deb Taylor

Are you a caregiver? Many people are in this role, but have never identified with the title, “Caregiver.” Often we think of caregivers as professionals such as doctors, nurses, social workers or home health care workers who provide direct care to the young, sick, disabled or elderly.

Although this is one type of caregiver, it is important to recognize that there are many caregivers that attend to the personal needs of someone in their life. You may be an adult child caring for a parent. You may be a neighbor looking out for an older neighbor. You may be a spouse caring for your partner. Even the type of assistance can vary. Maybe you are helping someone with shopping, cleaning, preparing meals, paying bills, personal cares, medication set up, transportation, the list goes on. If you are doing any of these things, you are a caregiver. But being a caregiver is hard work and can be emotionally draining. Common feelings include exhaustion, guilt, anger, fear and loneliness. Finding support and balance in your own life is crucial.

There are many resources, tips and tricks to help manage the many emotions that caregivers go through. The first step is to make sure you aren’t in it alone. The phrase, “it takes a village” comes to mind. Its original meaning is in reference to child rearing, but also applies to the caregiver experience. Caring for a loved one can be a greatly fulfilling experience, but you can’t and shouldn’t do it alone. As they say, “you can’t pour from an empty cup,” and with caregiving you are often giving more of yourself than you realized you even had to give. If you don’t have anyone else helping you, and even if you do, one of the best ways to find support is through a caregiver support group. Here at Senior Community Services we provide five support groups, free of charge, throughout the metropolitan suburbs with varying days and times. These are open groups that caregivers may join at any time.

Managing stress is another very important task for caregivers. Often times there are multiple people who want to be in the loop about mom or dad’s health and it can be very stressful to make sure you’re getting all the pertinent information to everyone. A great resource to make this task easier for caregivers is the free web-based tool, CareNextion.org. CareNexion.org is a way for caregivers to easily keep everyone in the loop, manage coordination of care, access to local resources and phone support with licensed social workers. In this online portal you can manage care schedules by using the calendar feature and assigning tasks to other members of your care team. It also acts as a central hub for secure communication with the journal feature. By setting up a care team on CareNextion.org, you also get access to hundreds of valuable resources in your community.

The next step in creating a healthy, balanced caregiver experience is something I’m sure you’ve heard of before, self-care. Taking care of yourself is one of the most important things you can do as a caregiver for yourself and for your loved one in your care. If you don’t take time to care for yourself you run the risk of becoming depressed, having feelings of resentment towards your loved one, or losing other relationships. Those are just a few of the numerous negative side effects of putting your own health and well-being second to your role as a caregiver. One thing you can do for yourself right now, as a form of self-care, is to ask for help. Remember earlier, the first step is to make sure you aren’t doing it alone. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, ask for help. Whether it’s from a doctor, social worker, friend or family member, it doesn’t matter. Just ask.

Another great way to show yourself some love is to start prioritizing your own health by creating healthier habits such as exercising regularly, getting enough sleep at night and investing in uplifting relationships. This may all sound overwhelming when you look at it all at once, but having a healthy balance between caring for yourself and caring for your loved one doesn’t have to be scary. Just take it one day at a time and if that’s too much, take it one moment at a time. Maybe you’re on your way home from work to take mom or dad to a doctor’s appointment, turn on your favorite radio station and just enjoy the music. Don’t let your mind run wild with everything you need to make sure you have before leaving for the appointment. Just enjoy the moment and relax. It’s the little moments in life that really matter, so try to start taking notice of the opportunities you have to reenergize yourself in these little moments.

Deb Taylor is the CEO of Senior Community Services and its Reimagine Aging Institute, a nonprofit that helps older adults and caregivers navigate aging to maintain independence and quality of life. We provide a wide array of programs — www.seniorcommunity.org