8 Tips to Help Caregivers Improve Their New Year

Carol Bradley Bursack | Jan 13, 2017

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In the New Year, because your loved one’s situation hasn’t changed, you might think that nothing can improve your own situation. But if you are open to change, you may find that the symbolism of the New Year does offer opportunities to make your life better. Resolve to improve your life through better self-care.

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Accept imperfection without guilt

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No caregiver can be expected to anticipate every need or provide a perfect solution when there is none. No caregiver should put aside long-term needs like rest, relaxation, healthy food and socialization for the sake of another. The unwarranted guilt that can lead caregivers to abuse themselves is not good for anyone, including the care receiver.

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Consider 'alone time' your right

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Nearly everyone needs some time alone to recharge. Time alone is not a luxury. It is a genuine need to maintain mental and physical health. As with all self-care, time alone helps most caregivers stay healthy, which will benefit the care receiver and the caregiver. A refreshed caregiver is a more positive caregiver.

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Find time for family and friends

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Your spouse, your children and your friends deserve some of your time. If your children are still at home, their needs are as important as your ill loved one’s. When you are a long-term caregiver, finding a balance that includes time for people other than your ill loved one is an enormous challenge, but work on it as you can.

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Learn to say no

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Requests for your time from charities, church, professional and social organizations should be carefully balanced. Only accept what you can do and, more importantly, what you want to do. Say no to anything else. You don’t need to make excuses. Exercising your right to choose what you want to do will be good practice for the rest of your life.

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Make your own health a priority

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A Stanford University study showed that 40 percent of family caregivers die from stress-related illness before their care receivers die. (That number doesn’t include other causes of caregiver death.) Remember: taking care of yourself is a central part of taking care of your care receiver.

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Watch for caregiver depression and get help

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Depression is a common side effect of long-term family caregiving.  If you are feeling helpless, hopeless or trapped in your life, seek professional help. That means talking with your doctor about the possibility of medication and, perhaps, therapy. Seeking help when you need it is a strength, not a weakness.

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Hire help when you need it

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Caregivers often feel that they have failed their loved one if they hire help or use the services of a care facility — in other words, if they don’t singlehandedly provide around-the-clock care on a long-term basis. Hire help before you find that your own health is failing.

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Adjust expectations to fit reality

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We caregivers have a certain reality that we must adjust to. That doesn’t include being a martyr. If our self-expectations, and our expectations of others, come close to matching our current reality, we will be happier, healthier and well-adjusted caregivers. This leads us back to acceptance.

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The takeaway

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You, the family caregiver, deserve time to take care of yourself. Not just time to survive, but time to take stock of what you can realistically do to have a better life even as caregiving may become more demanding. One thing you must do, however, is understand the importance of self-care. Do it for you. Do it for your loved ones.