Debra Savage RN, BSN is the clinical support manager for Assisted Living and Home and Community Based Services for Presbyterian Senior Living. This post was originally featured on their website.
More and more Americans step up to assume the role of primary caregiver for an adult family member or loved one every year. In the past year alone, nearly 40 million Americans have provided unpaid care.
For many, taking on the role of caregiver is necessary for the health and wellness of a senior loved one, but it is not without challenges. Caregivers are faced with a number of new responsibilities and unfamiliar feelings, including the worry of additional obligations, fear about the future, and compounding stress. As a caregiver, you may feel guilt for not being able to do more. You may also experience anger and resentment towards your senior loved one.
All of these feelings are valid. They’re also normal.
While it can be emotionally and physically exhausting, there are several ways to manage the added stress. The following techniques can assist you with managing and navigating life as a caregiver.
1. Devote Some Time for Yourself
Setting aside a few minutes each day to meditate or reflect can greatly lessen feelings of being overwhelmed. Take time to learn meditation techniques, utilize classes, books, DVDs, or online resources to help you learn the best way for you to relax and reflect.
In addition, consider the following activities to keep your body and mind healthy:
- Engage in daily exercise
- Schedule regular medical checkups
- Practice healthy eating habits
- Avoid alcohol and drugs
- Get plenty of sleep
- Do things you enjoy/find a hobby
2. Know Your Limits
You’re busy, but you can only do so many things at once. Research indicates that you’re not as efficient as you may think when you multitask, and it may even harm your health.
Understand that at times, you may have to say no. Setting boundaries is critical to managing life as a caregiver. Make lists and use a calendar to manage all of your new responsibilities.
3. Celebrate the Positive
It can be easy to overlook those touching, beautiful moments you have with your loved one in the midst of all of these responsibilities. Take time to enjoy the special times, and try to laugh every day; it’s good for both you and your loved one’s physical and mental health.
4. Seek Support
Even if you have taken on the role of primary caregiver for your loved one, you can’t do it all alone. It’s not a matter of if you’ll need help from other family members, community resources and senior care providers—it’s a matter of when and how much. Without a support system in place, you will burn out quickly, which will compromise your ability to provide the best possible senior living situation for your loved one.
Research has shown that social support can help you cope with a wide range of difficult situations, according to AARP. Consider seeking support in the following ways:
- Connect one-on-one with old friends, or take advantage of social media for busy schedules
- Contact a senior care expert who can make suggestions for needed help
- Ask family members and friends to listen without judging
- Ask for help and support from a trusted community or place of worship
- Seek assistance from a social worker, counselor or therapist
- Seek out a caregiver support group online, through a hospital, or connect with a senior care provider in your area that can help
- Consider Adult Day Services or other senior living options that offer social engagement for seniors who may have limited access to friends or peers.
- Inquire about At-Home Services in your local area for a helping hand that can come to you
5. Take Care of Your Needs as a Caregiver
Amid the stress of caregiving for a senior loved one, it’s easy to forget your own needs. Taking the time to care for yourself, understanding that you can only handle so much, celebrating special moments and seeking support can help you stay strong and confident as you continue managing life as a caregiver.
The advice I give to family caregivers is to follow these tips, or others that have worked for you, to maintain a healthy balance. The best caregiver is one is who also able to take care of their own needs, too.
Debra Savage RN, BSN is the clinical support manager for Assisted Living and Home and Community Based Services for Presbyterian Senior Living. Her licenses include RN BSN, Certificate for OASIS Specialist – Clinical, and Personal Care Home Administrator. Presbyterian Senior Living is one of the largest senior living and care providers serving 6,000 individuals 55 and over in 30 locations across the mid-Atlantic.