November, National Family Caregivers Month, is a time set aside to recognize the sacrifices of caregivers. Acting as a caregiver for an elderly loved one is both a tremendous honor and an incredible drain. As a whole, caregivers face the very real risk of burnout. Sometimes they reach a point where they can no longer provide the care that their elderly loved one desperately needs. Caregivers should remember that they need to take care of themselves, too. In honor of National Family Caregivers month, here are some tips to encourage self-care for caregivers.
Self-Care: Preserving One’s Capacity to Care for Others
A person’s fundamental ability to care for others is contingent upon his or her self-care. If caregivers think they cannot afford the time to engage in self-care, they need to recognize that they cannot afford not to do so.
Little acts of self-care, such as taking an hour or so to relax in a coffee shop, boosts caregiver well-being. Recharging with an occasional afternoon at a spa will greatly increase a caregivers’ ability to continue providing care. For the sake of the elderly loved one, if not the caregiver’s own sake, caregivers should embrace some time off.
Accepting Help Enables Self-Care for Caregivers
Once caregivers accept the reality that they need time off, they must learn to accept help. If family members or friends offer to spend a few hours watching an elderly loved one, caregivers should say yes. There is nothing wrong with accepting help, and doing so will benefit both caregiver and care receiver.
People are not machines, and they cannot perform the same selfless tasks indefinitely, without rest for the body and spirit. Caregivers are often supra responsible and feel they need to do everything themselves. Accepting help from people who offer to lighten the caregiver’s load may take practice, but caregivers will soon come to treasure the respite such offers afford.
Caregivers Should Ask for Help so They Can Self-Care
Caregivers need not try to be superman or superwoman. It is possible that others are not offering help because the caregiver appears not to need any. Some caregivers put on a facade of calm and control, even when they are ready to break down inside.
There is nothing wrong with a caregiver alerting members of a support network that self-care needs are calling. Caregivers need not fear that things will fall apart in their absences. Chances are, an afternoon or evening off will not result in a disaster for the elderly loved one. Being willing to delegate the tasks of caregiving may prove to the caregiver that others are resilient, capable, and trustworthy.
Help may come in many forms. Someone may offer to watch the elderly loved one for an afternoon, or to deliver some pre-cooked meals to the home. Someone else may offer to run errands, or even assist with the caregivers’ own children. Caregivers should remind themselves to be open to accept help, in whatever form it takes, remembering that it will aid them in providing a higher level of care.
What Can Happen when Caregivers Don’t Self-Care
Some of the more common problems that caregivers run into if they don’t accept help from others include:
- Loss of sleep (this can lead to serious health problems if it persists long enough)
- Poor diet (eating too much processed and pre-prepared food can wreak havoc on health)
- Lack of exercise (the long-term effects of not exercising are well-documented and severe)
- Exhaustion (pushing one’s self even when sick or tired can harm health)
- Lack of medical care for the caregiver (the results can be disastrous)
These are just a few of the things that lead to caregiver burnout in body and soul. Caregivers should remember that, once their own health and well-being are compromised through lack of self-care, they will not be able to provide effective care for anyone else.
November is a time to celebrate family caregivers. One of the best ways to celebrate and thank them is to enable them to engage in more self-care.
Palmer, M. (April 2014). Self-Care Needs of Family Caregivers of Depression: Management and Prevention of Caregiver Burnout. Washington State University (thesis paper). Available at https://research.libraries.wsu.edu:8443/xmlui/handle/2376/5011. Last visited November 8, 2016.
Zhang, Z., Joycey, L. (2015). Caregiver Burnout: The Impact of Adult Day Programs on Caregivers. Proceedings of the National Conference of Undergraduate Research . Available at http://ncurproceedings.org/ojs/index.php/NCUR2015/article/view/1440. Last visited November 8, 2016.