Take Care of the Caregiver!

With a new year in full effect, it’s a perfect time to prepare yourself for the challenges of caring for a loved one. Regardless of how you become a caregiver, it is often a shock and always emotionally draining.  Between managing our own schedules, searching for resources, and dealing with the day to day challenges that go along with being a caregiver, we often forget to stop and think about our own health and wellbeing. It’s easy to put yourself on the back burner. We must stop and realize that by not taking care of ourselves, we do more harm than good to the person we are caring for and ourselves.

As the number of caregivers in our country increases, so does the number of people suffering from exhaustion, overwhelm, isolation, depression and physical ailments related to all of these. Studies from healthcare agencies and other experts show that those who provide care are at a higher risk for a host of stress-related health problems, including depression and chronic illness. Four in 10 caregivers report increased feelings of depression and three in 10 believe that their health has deteriorated since they became a caregiver. Family caregivers also suffer a chronic condition at more than twice the rate as non-caregivers. Stress from providing care can take as much as ten years off a family caregiver’s life!

Sometimes a caregiver is far away from family and friends who could offer the assistance and support they need, other times they are the sole caregiver for their loved one. This is why respite care is so valuable. Respite care is not a luxury. It is a necessity for both the caregiver and the loved one receiving care. Respite helps because it distracts you from what you are doing every day. It gives you time to take a deep breath and think of other things. It allows you time to be good to yourself. To love, honor and value yourself. It gives you time to remember that you are doing a very hard job and you deserve some quality time, just for you.

Research has shown that providing respite can have a positive effect on the health of the caregiver. Not only can respite care promote good health to a caregiver, but it brings a variety of interpersonal relationships into the life of the person receiving care.  A study has also shown that respite may also reduce the likelihood of divorce and help sustain marriages.

Without respite, you will often face caregiver burnout. Caregiver burnout makes providing care very difficult, or impossible. Signs of burnout are exhaustion, depression, inability to sleep, anxiety, lack of appetite, irritability, and many other negative effects. This can lead to resentment, and even illness. It is your responsibility as a caregiver to care for yourself as well as the person you are caring for.

Respite care comes in many forms. In-home respite normally involves a trained professional from an agency who comes into the home to provide care for a pre-established amount of time. Some communities have volunteers available to provide respite care. There are also facilities that allow short term stays to provide respite care for the elderly. These services can be found through local assisted living homes, hospitals or long term care residences. Another option is to get family members or friends to provide a few hours of respite care to alleviate stress. When people offer to help, accept the offer and suggest specific things that they can do.

Remember, respite care is vital to you and the person you are caring for. There are many ways to enjoy your time off during your respite. You can go out to lunch and catch up with friends. Treat yourself to a movie, or read a book in the park. Attend a care giving support group, you are not alone! Sometimes, simply relaxing in a comfortable place, or catching up on some much needed sleep is key. Whatever method you use to distress yourself, do it. You deserve it.