If you were planning to run a marathon, you’d train continuously. You’d keep yourself in tiptop shape. You’d eat right, get plenty of sleep, exercise regularly. You’d keep abreast of your healthcare and share running challenges with others.
Caregiving is the longest marathon most of us can conceive. And we have to train in the midst of the marathon. How successful we are depends on how well we train.
How important is this? Evidence shows that most caregivers are ill-prepared for their role and provide care with little or no support, according to Alexis Glidewell of the Redwood Caregiver Resource Center. And more than one third of caregivers continue to provide intense care to others while suffering from poor health themselves.
Caregiving by nature evokes guilt and grief, says Glidewell: guilt about not being able to do more for the loved one, about sometimes wishing to be free of the obligation, about taking time for oneself; and grief about the continual decline of the loved one despite the caregiver’s best efforts. Sometimes a simple living arrangement evolves into a caregiving role the caregiver didn’t expect to take on. To cope with these feelings is paramount not just for the loved one’s health, but for the caregiver’s as well.
There are three essentials for caregivers to remember:
Make sure you have a medical diagnosis for your loved one, so you will know what he or she is able to do and how that may change with time. “Having this knowledge doesn’t make caregiving less sad or less frustrating, but it makes it less personal,” says Glidewell. If your loved one has forgotten how to tie his shoes, it’s not because you’ve been doing it for him. Use this information to have a plan in place for future care, or even the eventuality of not being able to continue the care yourself.
Grief is inevitable in caregiving, as your loved one’s health deteriorates. You may see no way out of your dilemma, no room to address your own needs. “You can go to every class in the world, read every book, watch every video,” says Glidewell. But in the end, you have to have the energy to keep on despite the grief. Research shows that self-care has to be paramount.
“Those who come into our agency really want to do the best job they can, but if they’re emotionally exhausted and have unrealistic expectations for themselves, they can’t do a good job,” she says. Coping with caregiver related stress is not something you should tough out on your own. Talking to others in counseling and support groups can make a huge difference. For a list of support groups in Sonoma County, visit redwoodcrc.org or call 542-0282.
This means taking care of your health: getting a good night’s sleep, getting some exercise in, keeping in touch with friends and family, and having some time off for yourself. Council on Aging offers adult day care in Santa Rosa, Sebastopol, Healdsburg and Sonoma, and the Petaluma People’s Services Center and Catholic Charities also have respite programs. These programs give caregivers a few hours respite in the mornings and early afternoons.
For a longer time off, consider getting in-home care from one of the many care agencies in Sonoma County. It is even possible to arrange for respite care for your loved one in an assisted living facility so you can take a vacation knowing your loved one will be well cared for.
Caregiving advice abounds on the Internet. Here are three online resources:
American Heart Association, “Top 10 Tips for Caregivers”
Ask Medicare, “Tips and Resources for Caregivers”
Mayo Clinic, “Caregiver Stress: Tips for Taking Care of Yourself”
November is National Family Caregivers Month. If you’re a caregiver, take a little time to review your self-care options. If you’re not a caregiver, reach out to those who are with offers to prepare a meal, provide respite or transportation, do some cleaning or just provide a listening ear if needed.
By: Bonnie Allen, Assistant Editor, Sonoma Seniors Today