As the number of older Americans continues to increase, so does the need for caregivers. While most caregivers willingly and lovingly step up to the plate when a loved one is facing a chronic disease or condition, that doesn't mean it's easy.
Over time, caregiving can both physically and emotionally wear down even the strongest of people. "Few responsibilities are as stressful as caregiving," says Stan Goldberg, Ph.D., author of Loving, Supporting, and Caring for the Cancer Patient. "It can become a zero-sum game, where only one person gets his or her needs met." While selflessness feels right at first, consistently ignoring your own needs can leave you overwhelmed — and possibly ill yourself.
If you are a caregiver for a loved one, these tips can keep burnout at bay and ease some of the challenges you're facing.
Take regular breaks.
Time away from caregiving duties helps you refresh your mind. Go for walks, make a coffee date with a friend, or spend time with children and grandchildren. Inside your own home, create a space that's just yours, such as a spare room for reading or sleeping.
Do what you love.
It may feel as though you should give up things you enjoy, but that's a recipe for resentment down the line. Remain in your book club, keep going to your yoga class, or tend your garden. No matter the activity, it's important to be able to turn to the same diversions you've always loved, even if you occasionally have to alter your schedule.
As little as 15 minutes a day of quiet reflection and breathing can recharge your batteries to focus on the day's responsibilities.
Join a local support group.
A good place to start is the website for the condition that your loved one has, such as the Alzheimer's Foundation of America, according to Tori Cohen, executive director of the Long Island Alzheimer's Foundation. Sympathetic friends and family aren't walking in the same shoes as you. People who are in the same boat are better able to empathize and relate, as well as brainstorm solutions to problems you face.
Line up resources.
Cohen suggests considering paid help, such as a private companion, or seek volunteers through your faith community or a network of friends and family. A couple of hours a week can give you time to run your own errands, go to the gym, or take a nap.
Progressive diseases often come with changes in personality and behavior, adds Cohen. Learning as much as you can about what might happen as time goes on will help you respond and cope more effectively.
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