Even when you want to do it, caring for an aging loved one can be taxing mentally, physically and emotionally. It is difficult to watch someone you love become frail and ill. Dementia steals your loved one away causing sadness and grief as you watch it happen. Yet, you must care for your loved one with a smile and deep compassion, adding to the emotional roller coaster of the experience. If you are to be a successful caregiver, you must protect your emotional health and your physical well-being. Taking care of yourself is not stealing time from your loved one, nor is it a luxury. You must care for yourself if you are to be a caregiver for the long term.
Here are five tips on ways to prevent caregiver burnout:
1. Take care of yourself emotionally and physically: Be sure to get enough sleep, eat healthy and exercise. Despite your busy and sometimes burdensome schedule, there are ways to increase your physical activity without sacrificing time that could be spent on hobbies or visiting with friends. It means squeezing exercise into the small moments of the day, like lunchtime, but your heart and your head will thank you. A quick walk around the block will do wonders for your stress level.
2. Make time for yourself: Take a day off and do something you really enjoy. Have lunch or watch a movie with a friend. Ask a friend or family member to spend some time with your loved one so you can take a day for yourself. You can also find a certified home health agency to provide a caregiver who will be a companion for your loved one for the day.
3. Join a support group for caregivers: It feels good not to feel alone. Finding a support group for caregivers will allow you to share your feelings and experiences with people who are in the same situation. Sharing your feelings with someone instead of bottling them up inside can reduce stress. You may find that you learn important caregiving tips from other members of the support group.To find a local group, contact your local hospital, hospice or rehab center. If you can’t find one, start your own! Online platforms like Meetup allow you to start your own group.
4. Know your limits as a caregiver: This is perhaps the most important thing that you can do for yourself. Ask for help. We all have our limits. We are not supermen nor are we superwomen. By asking friends and family for help you can avoid exhaustion and the resulting resentment you might feel toward your loved one. If you find it difficult to ask for help start small. Ask someone to pick up a prescription for you. Ask a friend to pick up a few groceries when they go grocery shopping.
5. Watch for the signs of burnout: Burnout will only get worse if you do not address it. Here are some of the most common signs and symptoms:
- Overwhelming feelings of frustration with the person you are caring for
- Feeling overwhelmed and not able to control your emotions
- Trouble concentrating
- Feeling resentful towards others
- Developing new or worsening health issues
- Experiencing changes in sleep or appetite
- Feeling a need to abuse medication or alcohol
- Believing that life is never going to get easier or better
You can prevent caregiver burnout. Reach out to your network of friends and family members, tell them how you are feeling and elicit support. If you don’t feel comfortable asking people you know for help, use the Eldercare Locator service. Visit www.eldercare.gov to search for community services by zip code, city or topic. Or call 800-677-1116 and ask to speak with an information specialist. Caring for a loved one is important and so are you. Take the time to keep yourself well.