Caregivers: Care for Yourselves, Too
Sadness, stress, anxiety, fatigue…these are all feelings that caregivers commonly report experiencing. Often caregivers are so busy concerning themselves with caring for their loved ones that they fail to pay attention to their own health, even when there are clear warning signs that their mental, physical and/or emotional health is suffering. This blog discusses some tips from years of experience that can help caregivers best prepare for the long, complicated and invariably emotional journey into caregiving.
When I give an eldercare lecture, I always ask the audience if they feel their caregiving experience is/was the hardest thing they have ever done. It never fails to be true–as a sea of heads nod emphatically. If caregiving is the hardest thing we ever do, it makes sense that the effects of the stress will last longer than expected.
In my case, after five years of chronic stress from caring for my parents (even though I solved the critical issues the first year), I expected to bounce back faster than I did.
I knew I was a little wacky there for a while, so irritable about everything, but I don’t think I realized just how deeply the stress had affected me–and was continuing to. After enough time passed, I felt myself coming back, like out of a fog I didn’t know I was in. I actually felt the difference in my whole body.
I have received so many emails from caregivers who endured chronic stress and observed this delayed syndrome in themselves as well–always asking if they will ever get back to feeling normal again. I always suggest they consider seeking professional help and consider taking an anti-depressant, which is often overlooked by caregivers, as they think they just need to be stronger and it will pass.
Here are the top things I wish I had known sooner.
That someone had INSISTED and dragged me (kicking and screaming) to a support group as soon as I started my caregiving journey. Solutions would have started to present themselves much sooner and I would have realized I wasn’t so alone.
That I had gotten my parents to see a GERIATRICAN immediately (an MD with a specialty in geriatrics and dementia) to get to the root of all their medical problems sooner.
That I had gotten my parents into Adult Day Care right away to keep them busy and to give me a break, and to turn around the exhausting up-all-night "sun-downing".
That I had made a list of all the many chores that needed to be done (caregiving, house, car, etc.) and then every time someone sorrowfully asked if there was "anything they could do" - I could hand them the list and say, "Yessss, thank you so much–please pick one!"
That I had put myself first and taken VERY GOOD care of my own health, never putting off my physical, tests, mammogram–and that I had taken an anti-depressant during and after my caregiving experience.
That I had understood how damaging constant stress could be physically and emotionally.
Share your strategies for coping with stress in the message boards.
Learn more about support groups for Alzheimer's disease.
You can learn more about Jacqueline and find information about her book at ElderRage.com.
Published On: June 30, 2006