By Donna Cardillo, RN
According the National Alliance on Caregiving, over 65 million Americans care for sick, disabled and elderly family members and friends, saving the healthcare system $375 billion dollars annually. But the caregiver or care partner is often overlooked in the process as the focus is on the person who requires the care.
Caregivers often neglect their own self-care and suffer in silence. They have a high rate of stress-related illnesses and disorders, addictions and even worse. Additionally, the stress, if not tended to, can even lead to abuse of the loved one they care for.
What Is a Caregiver/Care Partner?
I didn’t view myself as a caregiver when my husband was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis because he didn’t need help with dressing or eating. Yet I began to take on responsibility for doctor’s visits, therapy appointments and pharmacy trips, as well as provide emotional support for him and family members.
I would protest: “I am not a caregiver.” But then I read descriptions of my situation on the National Family Caregivers Association website nfcacares.org and finally had to admit that I was stressed, overwhelmed, approaching burnout, and in need of help and support.
What to Do if You Are a Caregiver
Join a support group specifically for caregivers. Find them in your local newspaper or through community services and local hospitals.
Connect online with other caregivers so you always have a 24/7 lifeline for communicating, support, help and advice, and to vent. Use The Caregiver Community Action Network (find them on the nfcacares.org web site), discussion groups on other caregiver web sites (do an Internet search), social media channels, or create your own blog.
Seek the support of a professional counselor. Most counties have counseling services available where you pay according to what you can afford. Even telephone counseling is available.
Partake in regular physical activity/exercise to relieve stress, maintain body strength and agility, and for overall good health. Even walking outside around your own home if you can’t venture away can help. Get a friend or neighbor to do it with you.
Get regular medical check-ups for yourself. Consider asking a friend or family member to keep after you about this, to hold you accountable and to go with you.
For birthdays and holidays, when asked what you would like as a gift, request gift certificates for a spa, salon or gym to indulge in some routine maintenance for the body and spirit. If necessary, ask others to sit with your loved ones so you can take some time for yourself.
Maintain hobbies and activities that are just for you. Caregiving can rob you of your identity and sense of joy and engagement in life.
If you’ve ever been on an airplane, you’ve heard the flight attendant announce that in the event of a loss of cabin pressure, you should apply your own oxygen mask before assisting others. The same applies to caregivers; by making your own self-care a priority, you’re better equipped to provide help and support to the one(s) you care for and that are depending on you.