Life does not stop for caregivers because their loved ones are coping with serious illness or disease. In fact, life gets infinitely more complicated – physically, emotionally, and financially.
While caregivers help their loved ones through diagnosis and treatment, they also must go on with their daily activities and responsibilities. Usually, the caregiver must continue to hold down a job.
Caregiving takes a toll
Traits that can be found in every loving caregiver are strength and patience, and these are admirable qualities. But to be truly strong, caregivers must give themselves permission to also care for themselves.
Research has shown that family caregivers experiencing extreme stress can age prematurely, and national agencies studying caregiving and health report that nearly 72 percent of caregivers report not going to the doctor as often as they should. Twenty percent of employed female caregivers over 50 report symptoms of depression, as compared to eight percent of their non-caregiving peers.
Tips for caregivers
Caregivers need breaks. Caregivers will hear that time and again, but they might be so overwhelmed that they can not decipher how to get those breaks.
Here are some tips aimed at allowing you, the caregiver, some necessary respite:
Take frequent breaks. While your loved one is in the hospital, take frequent breaks and let the hospital staff do the caregiving so that when your loved one comes home, you will be up to the task. Consider that it is not your job to stay at the bedside. Your job is to prepare for the work that will come when your loved one returns home. Take a short walk outside. Go buy a magazine. Find something healthy to eat and then eat it, sitting down. Taking small breaks throughout the day is very important to good health and the ability to sustain yourself.
Get some exercise. Take a walk in the hospital neighborhood. Take a walk in your own neighborhood. Go to the gym. At Brigham and Women’s Hospital, caregivers have access to a nearby gym, where yoga and other classes are offered. Contact Patient and Family Relations at (617) 732-6636 for more information. Caregivers are also encouraged to walk on the central hospital corridor called “The Pike,” which is a quarter mile in each direction.
Find other caregivers to talk to. Find a support group for caregivers in your area, and go alone, without your loved one, to the meetings. Talking about the stress you are under is important. Talking allows some release, and it is not a sign of weakness or complaint.
Invite others in. Invite friends and family to visit your loved one so that you can run an errand, read a book, or simply get some alone-time for yourself.
Seek company. Invite friends and family to visit you to provide the support that comes with having good company.
Let others help you. Give a task to friends and family members who ask, “What can we do for you?” Try to realize that in offering friends and family members a way to help you or your loved one, you are helping them, too. You are making them feel valued and useful. They want to ease your burden.
Create a personal web page for updates. Consider using Caring Bridge, a free website that allows the creation of a personal Web page, which visitors can then access to check on your loved one’s condition and ongoing treatment. This will relieve you of the burden of making daily phone calls to pass on news. Designate someone you trust who can create this Web page and update it daily.