e). All of the above.
The answer for most people will be (e). All of the above.
Over 65 million Americans are now serving as full or part-time caregivers for family members, “preparing meals, taking over household duties, managing doctor appointments and medications, and in some cases providing full-time assistance” for their loved ones, reports USA Weekend.
Nearly one in five caregivers provides more than 40 hours of care per week.
What’s even more amazing is that many caregivers also hold down part or full-time jobs, and care for school-age children, at the same time they’re putting in countless hours caring for family members.
We’ve seen how many of our clients have pitched in with caregiving duties. Many have parents now in their 90s (or in some cases, over 100 years of age!). They need help, ranging from a weekly grocery shopping trip, to round-the-clock care. One couple has pulled off the seemingly impossible feat of working full-time while simultaneously caring for two adult parents in their 90s, both experiencing memory decline, in their home.
It’s no surprise that more than half of caregivers report feeling stressed and overwhelmed.
So what’s the secret to taking care of yourself and avoiding burnout when you’re a caregiver?
Know when you need a break
Caregivers should be on the alert for these signs of caregiver stress, which signal it’s time to take a break, according to the Mayo Clinic:
Feeling tired most of the time
Feeling overwhelmed and irritable
Sleeping too much or too little
Gaining or losing a lot of weight
Losing interest in activities you used to enjoy
Enlist the help of others
Lonnie Ali is the wife and caregiver of former professional boxer Muhammad Ali, who suffers from Parkinson’s. Lonnie says that as her husband’s illness intensified, she realized she needed more aid.
“As long as Muhammad was fairly independent, it wasn’t a big deal,” she said in a recent AARP interview with Jon Saraceno. “But when he required more attention, I would be stupid not to think I didn’t need some assistance. Frankly, I could not do this if my sister did not live with us.”
Here are some tips to get the additional help you need:
Divvy up tasks among other family members so everyone does their part, or post a chore schedule. Your sibling who lives out of town can be tasked with calling in each week to chat with your mom on the phone. Another family member can handle paying bills, or shop for groceries.
Alternatively, prepare a list of ways that others can help (for example, take your mom to the doctor’s appointment, cut the lawn, or take the dog for a walk), and let the helper choose what he or she would like to do.
For tasks no one in the family can handle, call in professionals and community service experts (for example, use community day care, or hire a daily money manager).
Schedule time for your own needs
Lonnie Ali says one of the principal coping mechanisms is to “learn to care for the caregiver – yourself.”
She makes time for a Pilates class three time each week, and makes it a point not to miss her own scheduled doctor’s appointments, because she knows if something happens to her, her husband and his care will suffer.
Experts at the Mayo Clinic echo her advice. “If you don’t take care of yourself you won’t be able to care for anyone else,” they caution.
There are several ways to make sure you get the “down” time you need:
Set aside time for yourself and activities you enjoy by actually scheduling that time each day in your agenda.
Monitor your own health and make sure to make and keep scheduled doctor’s appointments.
Make a special “retreat” space in your home so you can get away and get privacy … then make sure to use it.
Balance work, your personal life and caregiving so you can stay emotionally and physically healthy.
Reach out and connect
Connecting with others in a similar situation can give you a huge emotional boost and may even make new friendships.
“Maintaining a strong support system is the key to managing the stress associated with caregiving,” says the Mayo Clinic.
Find a local caregiver support group. They will help you understand that what you are feeling and experiencing is normal, and you can get practical advice from people who are in your situation. If there aren’t groups in your area, try online. The more you know about your loved one’s condition, the more you can help.
Set aside time each week for socializing, even if it’s just a walk with a friend.
Whenever possible, make plans that get you out of the house so you can enjoy a change of scenery.
Look for caregiving or other classes at the Red Cross, the local hospital, your local Area Agency on Aging, or groups like the Alzheimer’s Association.