The 5 Most Important New Years Resolutions for Family Caregivers
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2020 has been an interesting and stressful year. For family caregivers, the backbone of caregiving in this country, the challenges keep coming. The new year brings an opportunity to approach things with a fresh frame of mind. Here are five new year's resolutions to incorporate into your life to sustain the important work that you do as a family caregiver:

  1. Accept Help

Accepting help can be one of the hardest things a caregiver does. Why? Because you know what is best for your loved one, it is challenging to give up that responsibility. Doing so, however, will reduce caregiver burnout and make for a healthier and happier you. Your loved one will benefit as well.

Steps to Achieve Your Resolution:

  • Delegate. If you have family nearby, ask for help. Even small tasks like picking up prescriptions or groceries can make a big difference. Family at a distance can also be of assistance by organizing healthcare records or making phone calls.
  • Hire home caregivers. The beauty of in-home care is its flexibility. You can hire a caregiver for a couple of hours a day or set up fewer days but with more hours. Caregivers can be a tremendous help with personal care, transportation, companionship, shopping, and cooking.
  • Find local resources. Local resources, especially in more urban areas, can take a load off of you. Adult day care, respite services, and memory cafes are just a few of the programs to look into. Call your local Area Agency on Aging to find out what is available and give something new a try.
  1. Take Care of Yourself (Add in Some Fun)

As a family caregiver, how many times have you heard this advice? Easier said than done, but taking care of yourself is vital to your health, well-being, and effectiveness as a caregiver. You probably think of yourself as having several jobs: caregiver, parent, spouse, and worker. Now, add on another one. Taking care of yourself is your job, and we have you covered with some simple steps to make it happen.

Steps to Achieve Your Resolution:

  • Rest. A lack of adequate sleep will catch up to you. Sleep is a caregiver’s secret weapon. It clears out toxic waste from your brain that builds up during the day. When you have good sleep, you will be able to function better mentally and physically. The generally accepted rule is to get at least 7 hours a night.
  • Make time for yourself. You are rolling your eyes right now, but you can do this! If at all possible, schedule time each day that is just for you, because if you don’t, it is unlikely to happen. If necessary, hire a caregiver to spell you for an hour or so.
  • Exercise. Activity is the key here. Walking, yoga, biking, or anything that gets you moving. There are thousands of online videos for every ability level, and the best part is that you don’t have to leave home.
  • Deep breathing. This step has its own category because it is so effective. Deep breathing is calming and centering. Call it meditation or not, but practicing deep breathing during times of stress has physical and mental health benefits. Look online for tips on how to get started.
  • Laugh. Finding humor in your caregiving situation may not seem possible, but it can really help. Laughter itself has lots of benefits, including relieving stress and improving your immune system. One of the easiest and most accessible ways to generate laughter is to watch a funny movie or TV series. Once you get the laugher juices flowing, you will be amazed at how much better you feel. Invite your loved one to join you for double the benefit.
  1. Tidy up Long-Term Care Planning

If this is a task you have avoided, you are not alone, but it will come back to haunt you later. The lingering stress of knowing what you have left undone can build up. Take this step in stages but make sure you get it done!

Steps to Achieve Your Resolution:

  • Identify what you need. The first step is to make a list of what you need in order of priority. If you can, give yourself a deadline for each step.
  • Focus on advance planning. Healthcare power of attorney is an absolute must as the primary caregiver. Without it, you can’t advocate or make decisions on behalf of your loved one. As part of that process, make sure that end-of-life wishes are completed as well. Talk with an estate planning attorney if you aren’t comfortable tackling this on your own.
  • Reassess health insurance. Make sure that you understand your family member’s insurance- what it is and what it covers. Each year open enrollment for Medicare is from October 15th to December 7th. During that time, you can change policies.
  • Organize healthcare information. Chances are your loved one has more than one healthcare provider. Considering the fragmented state of our healthcare system, you will be calmer if you are well organized. The method is up to you. Use a notebook, file, online form, or your phone. Keep track of medications, providers with phone numbers, notes on visits, and diagnoses. Many providers now offer aftercare summaries or online medical records.
  1. Focus on Health

Definitely focus on your health, but the health of your loved one as well. What goes for them goes for you too. Most people underestimate the impact simple health steps can have on recovery, strength, endurance, and mental well-being. It is never too late to start.

Steps to Achieve Your Resolution:

  • Keep preventative appointments. Yearly medical visits, prostate, colon, and breast exams can find problems before they get out of control. Preventable and treatable conditions like high blood pressure and diabetes can be detected early.
  • Try home health. Home health is underutilized. As long as a patient qualifies under Medicare guidelines, this short-term support service can hasten recovery, improve balance, strength, and endurance. All things that will help you take care of your loved one.
  • Improve healthy eating. Yes, it is a jungle of information out there when it comes to good nutrition. But the basics have been well established. Focus on a plant-based diet that is low in processed foods. It is estimated that unhealthy eating costs the American healthcare system over $50 billion a year just in heart-related diseases, so it can be beneficial to try out different diets for heart health. Poor diet is related to all kinds of physical and mental health problems. A healthy diet as you get older is not complicated- it will just take some adjustments, and you should see improvements quickly.
  • Cognitive stimulation. Cognitive stimulation is a fancy term for using your brain. If you are a caregiver for someone with dementia or Alzheimer’s, this is especially important. It is easy to overlook this part of caregiving, so make it a priority.
  • Mental health. If you or your loved one suffers from depression or anxiety, get help. Medicare pays for teletherapy, and counseling is a very effective treatment for mood disorders.
  1. Be Grateful

In the hectic world of caregiving, it can be hard to find things to be grateful for, but they are there if you look, and so are the many benefits of gratitude for seniors and caregivers.

Steps to Achieve Your Resolution:

  • Keep a list. Write down the things you are grateful for each day. Jot them down or keep them in your phone. Keep it simple! The fact that the sun is shining could be enough!
  • Appreciate other people. Nothing soothes the soul and lifts the spirit by letting people know you are thinking of them and that you appreciate them. Put a reminder in your phone calendar to reach out to different people that could use some support.
  • Reconnect spiritually. If spirituality and religion are important to you, reconnect if you have strayed away.
  • Use positive language. You might be amazed when you examine your thinking process and the language that results from that. Negative language creates negative feelings. Even in stark times, reframing the situation will give you a different perspective.

Family Caregivers Resolutions for the New Year and Beyond

When you look through our list of resolutions, it might seem overwhelming at first. Tackle what resonates with you and then add suggestions as time goes on. Resolve to be a healthier and happier caregiver for yourself and your loved one.

Resources

A healthy diet as you get older

The high cost of a poor diet

About the Author(s)

Amanda Lambert is the owner and president of Lambert Care Management, LLC which provides care management for older and disabled adults. She is the co-author of Choose Your Place: Rethinking Home as You Age (November 2020) and of Aging with Care: Your Guide to Hiring and Managing Caregivers at Home (Rowman and Littlefield, 2018). She has worked for over 20 years in the senior-related industry including mental health, marketing and guardianship. She has a passion for topics related to health, wellness and resilience as we age.

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