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Taking Care of Yourself While Caregiving for Others

Updated on January 23, 2013

Caregivers Have Heart

"Heart" is one of the qualities that unites all caregivers.
"Heart" is one of the qualities that unites all caregivers. | Source

Care for the Caregiver

As a caregiver, you have many unique qualities and skills, but thinking of yourself and your needs usually isn't among them. You might know rationally that your physical and emotional health is important, if for no other reason than to be able to continue to provide care for someone else. Caregivers, by and large, don't put this rational thinking into practice.

More than half the caregivers responding to questions in a recent study admitted they don't have time to take care of themselves, or to go to a doctor. This is because caregivers put others' needs before their own -- part of the reason why they became caregivers in the first place.

But the secret to maintaining your own health and well-being is learning to put your own needs at the top of the list. It may feel selfish at first, but you can't take care of others if you yourself aren't healthy.


U.S. Family Caregiver Statistics

 
More than 34 million individuals provide care for someone age 18 or older with an illness or disability
One-fifth of all American households are affected by caregiving responsibilities
More than one-third of caregivers caring for someone age 50+ have reduced their hours working or quit their jobs
Caregivers provide 90 percent of all long-term care in the United States
Information gathered from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Care for the Caregiver

Caregivers Need the Support of Other People

The "typical" family caregiver is a woman in her mid-forties who has some college education and spends at least 20 hours a week caring for her mother. There are many other care giving situations, but a feature that is true of them all is that care giving requires time, energy and often financial constraints.

Where and how are you going to find someone to ease the burden? Think back to those people who have offered assistance in the past. You likely thanked them for their offers, but declined any help. Reconsider now; ask them if you can take them up on their offers. Perhaps there is someone who would be willing to sit with the care recipient while you ran errands, or maybe that person would be willing to run an errand or to for you.

Do you have siblings who live at a distance from you? It isn't practical for them to be physically available to provide the caregiver support you need, but if you are experiencing financial costs related to your care giving, ask for their assistance.


Six Simple Rules for Caregivers

Seek the Support of Other Caregivers

Fortunately, finding other caregivers with whom you can connect is as easy as accessing the Internet. There are many types of support groups for caregivers, from the specific to the general.

Caregivers Support Groups has a wide variety of members who are caring for different types of individuals, from an ill or disabled spouse, an adult child with disabilities, or one or both parents. Chances are you will find someone to connect with here that will understand your situation and be able to lend moral support.

Today's Caregiver is another example of a site to find support. Additionally, there is lots of useful information there, too, about medical conditions, resources available, and up-to-date info related specifically to caregivers.

The list of available support groups and resources is nearly endless. To find one or more groups for your needs and situation, simply use your favorite search engine and type in "caregiver support" or "caregiver resources" and hone the list from there. You may be happily surprised to find you are far from alone in your circumstances.

Caregivers Act Like Superheroes, But You Are Not Invincible

How to Take Care of Yourself: Remember the Basics

As a caregiver, you likely have little trouble prioritizing the needs of your care recipient. It's your own needs that slip by the wayside as you try to fit 36 hours of a "to do" list into a 24-hour day. In allowing your own needs and health to go by unheeded is a recipe for decreased energy and stamina, depression and even illness in the days and months ahead.

Prevention in the form of a balanced, nutritionally sound diet each and every day and at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity most days of the week is vital.

Even if you are physically active in your care giving role, eek out some time just for you to walk, dance, do yoga, or whatever your preference is for activity. This "me-time" activity can do wonders for your physical and emotional health.

As for the healthy diet, you are already seeing to the nutritional needs of your care recipient. Slipping your own nutritional needs in there shouldn't be too energy-draining. What will become an energy drain is when your body doesn't have a constantly replenishing supply of the nutrients it needs to function at its best.

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    • profile image

      Alejandro 3 years ago

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    • iWilliams311 profile image

      Imani Williams 4 years ago from Denver, Colorado

      The lessons and points you mentioned here were some of the hard truths my siblings and I realized AFTER we provided care for our dad. It's so important for a family caregiver to put their physical and emotional well-being at the top of the list because how can you continue to provide care if you also need to be taken care of? My older sister developed an illness herself during our caregiving years exactly because she took herself for granted. :(

    • L.L. Woodard profile image
      Author

      L.L. Woodard 5 years ago from Oklahoma City

      Mary Weeks, thank you for your input and for your service to those in need of hospice services. I hope caregivers will heed your message and avail themselves of needed assistance. Put aside the feeling that you somehow need to do everything yourself. As Mary explained, both you and your relationship with the patient will benefit.

    • profile image

      Mary Weeks, RN, CHPN 5 years ago

      I have been a hospice nurse for 13 years. The biggest challenge I had was getting the caregivers to take care of themselves. When I would arrive at the home for the first time, the caregiver would look worse than the patient. Exhaustion, frustration, feelings of hopelessness, financial strain, etc. I would have to, most of the time, really push the caregiver to accept the help of our agency to take care of the patient. I would encourage them to leave the home when the hospice aid came to bathe the patient. When the caregiver would leave, he/she would come back refreshed. Sometimes the caregiver would go take a short nap. Hospice volunteers can come to the home and sit with the patient, run errands, do like housekeeping, provide emotional support, etc. Many times there is a huge financial relief because all the medications related to the patient's hospice diagnosis are provided at no charge to the patient. All equipment necessary to care for the patient is provided at no charge. When the care accepts all that hospice has to offer, they are then able to focus their attention on spending quality time with the patient and saying good-bye. It is beautiful to watch. If you are a caregiver, accept any help offered, take time for yourself. If you don't take care of yourself, you won't be able to provide the type of care you want to your loved one.

    • L.L. Woodard profile image
      Author

      L.L. Woodard 5 years ago from Oklahoma City

      Alison Graham, you've made a valid point. I'm happy to hear that your husband was supportive during your time as a family caregiver. The situation must be stressful for all involved, including any children of the caregiver. There is only so much time and energy to go around.

      I appreciate your read, comment and vote.

    • Alison Graham profile image

      Alison Graham 5 years ago from UK

      Thank you, I was interested to read this hub when I read the title and from personal experience, I would like to put in a word for the caregiver's partner - who often has to deal with the fall-out of the stressful situations and exhaustion that often come with the task of being a caregiver - my husband was amazingly supportive when I was caring for my elderly parents but it was really hard on him too. Thanks for a helpful and informative hub. Voted up.

    • L.L. Woodard profile image
      Author

      L.L. Woodard 5 years ago from Oklahoma City

      SommerDalton, thanks for your kind words and votes.

      The trend toward family caregivers is likely to increase as the mega-generation of baby boomers such as myself grow older. It's reassuring to know there are already resources and support systems in place and those, too, will likely be increasing as the years pass.

      My hat is off to all caregivers.

    • SommerDalton profile image

      Sommer Dalton 5 years ago

      This hub is so important for everyone caring for someone part or full time to read! Very useful points! Voted up plus 2!

    • L.L. Woodard profile image
      Author

      L.L. Woodard 5 years ago from Oklahoma City

      Sandra Busby, I appreciate your read, comments and votes. I think if we are friends or family members of caregivers, we can be useful in helping these selfless individuals remember to take care of themselves and offer a helping hand or ear when needed.

      Thank you so much for Sharing.

    • sandrabusby profile image

      Sandra Busby 5 years ago from Tuscaloosa, Alabama, USA

      All so true. The first responsibility we all have is to take good care of ourselves; otherwise, we'll be no use to anybody. Voted up and shared.

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