Tips and Support for Caregivers
Caring for a loved one can bring about a full range of emotions, from love and satisfaction to resentment, guilt, stress, anger, and exhaustion.
We've spoken to caregivers and support groups across the country and selected their very best tips for making sure you take good care of yourself as well as your loved one. Read on for great tips and support for caregivers from those who have been there.
It's Okay to Ask for Help
Share the Highs and Lows
Channel Anger and Frustration
Write It Down
Put Your Own Health First
A Break Makes All the Difference
A Breath of Fresh Air
Celebrate What You Do
Get Expert Advice From Professional Organizations
Get in Touch with Other Caregivers
Check Your Entitlement to Help
Keep On Learning
Friends and family are a great source of help and support for caregivers, so don't ever feel that they would resent helping out. More than likely they admire what you do and would like to be able to contribute in some way. It's not a weakness to ask; it could even provide the downtime you need in order to be a better caregiver.
Ask family members to commit to certain tasks around the house, or at specific times during the week. It's best to ask during family gatherings, as they'll be more likely to volunteer when they see others lending a hand too. Create a schedule to confirm everyone's promises - and encourage people to pair up if they don't feel able to help out on their own.
Take friends up on any offers of help. If you can't get to the shops and they're going there, it will hardly inconvenience them to pick up a few extras for you. They may even help with the odd household chore, such as mowing the lawn. Remember, not all the help friends provide needs to be directly related to your loved one – every contribution can free up some of your precious time and give you a break.
We all know there are highs and lows in caring for a loved one with incontinence. There are moments of awkwardness, moments of humour and moments when you realize that providing the best care possible is an enormously gratifying privilege. Sharing these things will help and encourage others in a similar situation, while also enabling you to retain a sense of balance. Set up a weekly or monthly get-together with family and friends who help with caregiving. By sharing and discussing the highs and lows, you can create a strong support network, enabling you to let off steam in an understanding environment.
The person you are caring for may become frustrated with themselves and take it out on you. If so, the thing to remember is that they never chose to be dependent on you. It's been forced on them and can get them down. Try and direct your anger at your loved one's medical condition rather than the human being trying to cope with it. Sometimes bringing in a third person can help diffuse the tension and share the burden.
One of the oldest and best therapies for managing highs and lows is to write it all down. Perhaps that's why diary-writing is such an ancient tradition. Okay, after a long hard day, you're probably far too tired to write a novel. However, once a week why not try writing a list of the things that went well for you and those that didn't. Look at the good things and think how you can build on them for the following week. Then check the bad ones and see if you can minimize them.
No question about it, a good caregiver needs to be fairly fit, so recognize when you're feeling under the weather and take steps to stay healthy. It's easy to neglect things like your diet when looking after a loved one - time slips away and meals are rushed. So try and get three solid meals a day. You'll have more energy and feel much better within yourself.
If things get on top of you, don't just blame yourself. Take time to adjust to your new responsibilities and all the new ways of doing things. In particular, regular breaks from caregiving are essential. Give yourself a pat on the back for doing an excellent job and, most importantly, take a break now and then – you deserve it.
It may sound like something your grandmother used to say, but there really is no substitute for a bit of fresh air (weather permitting). Even a 5-minute walk around the block can lift the spirits and put things back in perspective. Try and get some time outside in the daylight every day to boost your spirits (and your vitamin D levels). And remember too that the same applies for your loved one, so if they're up to being outside every once in a while, encourage it.
Try and give yourself a daily pampering moment. Every morning set a time of day for your own indulgence – something to look forward to. It might be savouring that chocolate cookie at 3 pm, having a glass of wine at the end of the day, or soaking in a long, hot bath. Whatever it is, plan it, stick to it and enjoy it.
You work so hard, yet how often do you think about all the good you do? The comfort, care and dignity you bring to your loved one? It is easy to get caught up in the routine and forget this. So try to remember you should be proud of what you do; caregivers are a special group who support the very fabric of society. Sometimes you, your family and your friends need to be reminded of this.
There may already be adult daycare centers or healthcare organizations in your area. If so, they could give you the chance to leave your loved one in caring hands so you can take a break for a few hours. Another advantage is that your loved one gets a chance to socialize with the other attendees. Many of these organizations offer transportation, run regular group activities such as day trips, and prepare snacks. They may even provide a 'meals on wheels' service.
Other useful services include pharmacies that deliver for free and some schools, community colleges or youth groups that have initiatives for students/members. If they're looking to lend a hand in the community, then they could be helping you. Professional caregivers are available in most areas to visit your home and look after your loved one. They'll give you time to catch up with a friend or just treat yourself. If you'd like to go away for an extended break, you could investigate caregiver homes that offer a limited period of stay.
There are many organizations listed when you go to useful links or you can check with your local health authority about what support services there are in your area. See what's available near you.
Look up a support group -- support for caregivers from other caregivers -- and you should soon meet others looking after loved ones in your area. Sharing your experiences with people who are going through a similar situation will help keep you confident – and you'll also pick up valuable tips and advice.
You may be entitled to help and financial support or reimbursement from your health insurance. Take a look at the prescription/reimbursement rules to see if you could be eligible. If so, you'll need to contact your health insurance company.
Keeping up to speed with new ideas, products and techniques doesn't just ensure that you keep making the best choices for you and your loved one. It also helps keep you connected with the wider caregiving community.