I've written a great deal about the suffering and stress of victims of a debilitating sleep disorder. Often other diseases or disorders are also present - arthritis, diabetes, chronic depression, to name a few.
It's true that this is all hard on the patient, but often he or she is not alone in the suffering. How about the person who is responsible for his or her care? How about the caregiver?
Sometimes this is a hospital, respite aid or nursing home care. But these solutions often prove too costly for the average person. Then the mantle of caregiving falls on the shoulders of a family member. Spouses, parents, adult children, other family members, even friends are called upon to care for the patient.
An article from the U.S. National Women's Health Care Information Center estimates that about one quarter of American families are involved in caretaking a loved one, and more than seven million persons are caring for older adults. Over half these care givers are women.
Caring for anyone with any sort of disability is hard on the emotional and physical health. Many of these caregivers find their own health failing, and depression is common. If the health of the caregiver becomes more precarious, there's a chance that he or she will become both caregiver and patient, not a good situation for anyone involved.
Caregiving is done because of the love we bear for the patient. It's great to have your loved one at home. It's great knowing he's receiving loving care because you're administering to him.
But most caregivers have little training and are unprepared for the emergencies that are bound to arise. Be sure you have emergency numbers close at hand at all times. Have neighbors or friends you can call on if you need help. Be prepared for all contingencies.
Even when all is going well, having a schedule can be a big help. Schedule times for medications and doctor visits. But also schedule time for yourself, for rest, exercise and socializing with friends. Care yourself as well as your loved one.
TIPS FOR TAKING CARE OF YOURSELF
- Ask for help if you need it, from other family members, friends or even neighbors. And, even though respite care is costly, your health is invaluable. Try to find a way to get the help you need.
- Get sufficient rest and sleep. We all know how important sleep is to keeping us healthy, both mentally and physically.
- Eat a healthy diet. Lots of fruit and vegetables. Use whole grain products and take a vitamin supplement.
- Don't neglect your own needs. Have someone else stay with the patent occasionally so you can get out with friends or go to a movie or concert.
- Exercise is important, even if it's only a walk. If the patient is unable to accompany you, then, again, ask for help.
- See your doctor for regular checkups. Catch illnesses before they catch you.
- Watch for signs of depression.
- Join a support group, others you can call on to discuss problems and worries, or just to socialize, even if it's an online group. No need to go it alone.
Unfortunately, even with the loss of the spouse, family member or friend, the problems of caregiving don't end. Much of the stress is gone. However, often there's depression, usually mild, but sometimes severe, as much as three or more years after the death of the patient. Loneliness is another factor, and that's only natural. He or she has been your closest companion for probably months or even years.
Start taking care of yourself now. It will help in years to come.
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