By Eileen Shoals

This article is very dear to my heart because in the middle of writing it, I visited my 91 year old grandfather in Louisiana. He resides at the Louisiana Veteran’s Home. On the day of my arrival, I received word that he had fallen out of his bed. Fortunately, he was fine, but my visit with him was emotional and stressful at times because I was so concerned for his well being.

I was speaking with a friend who said her 90+ year old grandmother had just fallen out of the bed also. I could hear the panic in her voice. In an instance, my friend’s world has changed because of her grandmother’s deterioration. She made a commitment to her grandmother and aging mother that she would keep them in her home and take care of them. Yet, that commitment is taking its toll in so many ways. I too took care of my mother and grandmother before they died. I respect anyone who loves their family members enough to be a primary caregiver, but I know the downside of that commitment all too well. Caregivers often neglect themselves and hold stress instead of releasing it. Pole dancing is such a great release when you are a caregiver. It gives you a great way to release emotion that is stuck in the body. There are other things you can do as well to make sure you are practicing self care.

Take Care of Yourself First

If you want to give good care, you have to take care of yourself first. Caregivers tend to deny their own needs. This strategy may work fine for short-term caregiving. For long-term caregiving, however, it is sure to lead to problems.

Several problems can occur when caregivers don’t take good care of themselves, such as illness, depression, and burnout. These side effects not only impact the caregiver, but they create problems for the person who is receiving the care. When a caregiver is able to take time out for themselves on a regular basis, they feel better about themselves, avoid health problems, and experience more energy and positivity regarding helping others. In essence, taking care of one’s self, allows the caregiver to continue giving care.

When you take on the task of caregiving, time becomes your most important resource. Caregiving requires a large time commitment, perhaps all of the extra time you have for yourself. If that happens, problems can develop. The best way to prevent the depression, frustration, and resentment that cause caregiver burnout is to hold back some time out of every day for you. If you wait until all of your chores and caregiving tasks are done before doing things for yourself, you will wait a very long time. Instead, decide on the minimum amount of time you need each day to meet your basic personal needs. Carve that time out of your schedule. Then figure out how the chores and caregiving will get done.

Here are some important things that you need to find time to do—just for yourself.

Get regular exercise. Exercise can be a good energizer for both physical and emotional health. Even just a few minutes several times a day will provide positive results.

Maintain a healthy diet. When you are busy giving care, it may seem easier to eat fast food than to prepare healthy, low-fat meals. However, healthy meals can be easy to prepare, and a good diet will give you more energy to carry you through the day.

Make time for an activity you enjoy—reading, listening to music, painting or doing crafts, playing an instrument—even if you can only do it for a few minutes each day. If you like to participate in church activities or take classes, ask a friend or family member to stay with your loved one for an hour or two once or twice a week so you can do those things.

Recognize stress and take steps to manage it. Your need for relaxation increases during periods of caregiving. For more information about recognizing and managing stress, see the topic Stress Management.

Recognize and deal with signs of HYPERLINK “javascript:AddNavBar(‘../health_guide_atoz/std120700.asp’);” depression. Depression is very common in caregivers. Maintaining a positive self-image is the most important thing you can do for yourself. Use self-care and ask for extra support when the earliest signs of depression appear. If that doesn’t work, seek professional help. Also, be on the lookout for signs of depression in the person you are caring for. Depression is common in older adults, especially those who have chronic diseases or who are disabled. Encouraging the person to seek treatment for depression will make your job easier in the long run. For more information, see the topic Depression.

Deal with important issues in your life, and maintain supportive relationships. Being a caregiver adds another dimension to your life, but it does not mean you have to put the rest of your life on hold. Issues involving your family and other relationships, your finances, your job, and other responsibilities still need to be addressed. Taking time to deal with issues as they arise and planning for the future are an important part of taking care of you. Make a conscious effort every day to stay connected with family, friends, and others in your support system.

Let go of guilt. Realize that you just can’t be everything to everyone all of the time. Acknowledge your limitations, and focus on what is most important. Tell yourself that you are doing a good job at a very difficult task, and ask for help when you need it. Feeling guilty is often a sign that you need a break from your caregiving schedule. Ask your friends and family to pitch in.

Don’t Help Too Much

The biggest mistake most caregivers make is providing too much care. Even if they don’t admit it, people like to help themselves. Every time you do something that could have been done by the person you are caring for, there is a double loss: Your effort has been wasted, and the person has missed an opportunity to help him- or herself.

As a caregiver your highest goal is to give the person you are caring for the power and the permission to control his or her life (as much as possible). Every act your loved one makes to maintain independence is a victory for you as a caregiver.

Don’t Do It Alone

Some caregivers live under the impression that they are the only available source of help. Often, however, other sources of assistance are available that can make your caregiving easier. If you want to be a good caregiver, know where to find help when you need it. The more support you have, the more successful you are likely to be. Services that may be useful to caregivers include the following:

Respite care may be the most important service for caregivers. Respite services provide someone to stay with the person while you get out of the house for a few hours. If the person you are caring for needs routine medical care, you may be able to arrange to have the person stay in a nursing home for a few days while you get away for a break.

Adult day centers are drop-off sites where a person who does not need individual supervision may stay during the day. This service is usually offered during working hours and may or may not be available on weekends. Meals, personal care services, and social activities are provided.

Adult foster care or board-and-care homes are private homes where older adults receive around-the-clock personal care, supervision, and meals. Some states require that board-and-care homes be licensed.

Nursing homes generally have two levels of care. Intermediate care includes assistance with using the toilet, dressing, and personal care for people without serious medical conditions. Skilled nursing care is usually for people who have just come from the hospital or others with medical conditions that require more intensive nursing care. Some facilities have special units for people with dementia.

Hospice programs provide social, personal, and medical services to terminally ill patients who wish to spend their remaining time at home or in a less formal environment than that of a hospital or nursing home.

Support groups give you an opportunity to discuss problems or concerns about caregiving with other caregivers.

Most Senior Centers have a lot of information about available resources. Research caregiver support groups in your community so you never feel alone. Finally, never forget the power of pole dancing. The ability to dance it out or work it out on the pole is a tremendous gift during times of stress. Five minutes twirling around a pole can do wonders for caregivers in need of stress relief.