National Self Care Awareness Month
Who are Today’s Caregivers?
It seems that more and more people are taking on the role of caregiver to an elderly or debilitated family member or friend. From millennials to baby boomers, people of all age groups are increasingly taking on the caregiver role. According to AARP, millennials make up 25% (or 1 in 4) of America’s 40 million unpaid family caregivers! (See The Cost of Caregiving, Forbes, July 25, 2018). In other scenarios, baby boomers are the main caregivers or find themselves in the position of needing help themselves. In any case, elder care is a major issue in this country
As a caregiver, it can be easy to neglect one’s own health, leading to increased or unmanageable stress, illness, or fatigue that can detract from your ability to care for others at a time when they may need you the most. At Reformed Church Home in Old Bridge, NJ, we receive calls from caregivers on a daily basis, seeking an optimal solution to the need to balance a personal life, work, family, and all the demands of the caregiver role. We know the importance of taking care of yourself first before you can help others. In light of the September designation of National Self-Care Awareness Month, we’ve compiled some advice below to help you take steps to protect your health and wellness and avoid caregiver burnout.
Importance of Self-Care as a Caregiver
When caring for a loved one, it’s hard to recognize the importance of your own needs. Understandably, you may determine that the needs of the person you’re caring for are the top priority. But self-care and your own health will undoubtedly fall behind in the process.
This tendency to focus all one’s energy on care-giving ultimately takes a toll on both you and your ability to care for the other person. If you are frequently ill, exhausted, or irritable, the care you are providing will be less effective and helpful than if you are healthy, joyful, and energetic. Taking the time to meet your own needs and practice self-care can go a long way toward improving your own well-being and the care you can provide to others.
Signs of Caregiver Burnout
As you probably are already aware if you are still reading this article, caring for an elderly loved one can be extremely taxing. Even the most dedicated, selfless, and energetic caregivers can suffer from what’s known as “caregiver burnout” over time. Caregiver burnout is brought on by the unrelieved stress of providing for another person and usually creeps up gradually until it is completely overwhelming.
Some signs that you may be experiencing caregiver burnout include:
- Low energy and overwhelming fatigue
- Difficulty sleeping or sleeping too much
- Changes in appetite, including under-eating or over-eating, resulting in weight gain or weight loss
- Irritability, and being quick to anger or argue with others
- Experiencing frequent mood swings, depression, or anxiety
- Falling ill more frequently than usual or taking longer to recover from mild illnesses
- Neglecting exercise, friends, or other previously enjoyable activities
How to Take Care of Yourself
If you are worried about experiencing burnout or want to prevent caregiver stress, here are some steps to protect your health as you care for another person:
- Ask for help from others, getting the support you need to have time for your own needs. Whether from family members, friends, or church acquaintances, don’t be afraid to ask for a needed break. Now is not the time to go it alone.
- Explore family leave benefits at your workplace to see if you can take some time off to help lessen your load.
- If you can, delegate tasks like errands or cooking to your spouse, kids, friends, or other relatives.
- If finances allow, seek professional assistance with a highly rated home care agency in your area.
- Consider a respite stay for your loved one at an assisted living community or nursing home. Many facilities offer short stays of between 1 to 4 weeks so that caregivers can have a break, take a vacation, focus on work, or just downshift, knowing that their loved one is well cared for and safe. (Be sure to visit several communities, get recommendations from family and friends, and check out online reviews and reports, such as www.medicare.gov/nursinghomecompare before placing your loved one for respite care.)
- Note that Medicaid recipients may be eligible for Medicaid-covered respite stays in a nursing home of 1-4 weeks. Investigate what is allowed in your area. Unfortunately, Medicare and most private insurers do not cover respite care for the elderly.
- Make taking care of yourself a top priority, without feeling guilty. Be sure to make time for exercise, eating well, and getting adequate sleep. Likewise, set aside time for yourself, giving yourself permission to visit friends, take a long bath, curl up with a good book, or practice meditating or yoga.
- Know that your situation is temporary and you will make it through.
Always keep in mind that there is support out there and people who understand what you’re going through. Remember to reach out to these resources and take advantage of assistance when you need it.
If you are considering a respite stay for an elderly person in your care, please reach out to Reformed Church Home at 732-607-9230. We may be able to provide a short-term solution that allows you the time you need to reenergize. Our goal is to ensure a very positive experience, a welcome break for you, and a pleasant, safe environment for the person you care for.