As you learn to care for an aging relative, it becomes apparent that most of your day and energy could be spent in the daily tasks that become part of that care. Your stamina and patience can be pushed, at times, to the breaking point. Therefore, one of the best things you can do for your aging relative is to find ways to care for yourself in order to preserve your strength and vitality.
The most common complaint of an overworked caregiver is a feeling of being discouraged trapped and overburdened. Frequently, the main reason for this is a lack of sleep, poor nourishment and not enough “alone time” that help to replenish the energies of the caregiver. It is quite possible for the caregiver to “burnout” or to feel very pressured under the burden of caring for a frail elderly person at home. But with proper motivation and planning, good respite (or relief) care can be found to free you from some of your responsibilities.
As you begin to explore the possibilities in sharing the care and responsibilities you have undertaken, you need to accept the reality that others may not give the same care as you, and the elderly person may be upset by the change in routine. You may have to compromise as you reach out for assistance.
In planning for respite care, help can often be found in family members (once they are asked directly), friends, neighbors, church groups, Offices on Aging, home health aides from professional agencies, and private caregivers in the community. If private caregivers are used, it is essential to check references and past experience in caring for others. It is important to have the person who will be staying with the aging relative in your absence to visit once or twice in order to familiarize the new caregiver with the routine.
A list of important phone numbers as well as a list of the elderly person’s medications, physical ailments and any peculiarities of behavior should be noted along with the name of the primary physician and left in a handy place. A system for medical information retrieval, such as a “Vial of Life” can be of great importance in an emergency.
When you are ready to leave, tell your aging relative that you are going and when you will return. You might feel pangs of guilt as you leave, but try to remember that you are doing something important for both of you. Unless you take the time out for yourself to live your own life and be reenergized by your own interests and friends, you soon will have nothing left to give your aging person. Perhaps the most vita] need of the caregiver is finding enough time to sleep. Outside services can be hired for nights only and can make an enormous difference as they allow the caregiver time for uninterrupted sleep.
At a time when you may feel too tired to consider your own needs… try to remember that you will have your own life, friends and interests again when you no longer need to care for your elderly person. It is, therefore, very important that you try to keep your friendships alive so they will be there when you have more time.
Depending on your interests or time you feel you can spend, getting a part time job or volunteering one day a week may interest you. A club activity, shopping, or just getting you hair done may be enough to give you a new lease on life. Some caregivers enroll in courses at a community college that they always meant to take or merely plan to take a stroll with a friend. Whatever your interest is, it is important that you continue to work at good “get away” times for yourself so you have more to give.
Sometimes, caregivers find support groups helpful. These are designed to bring people together who share common concerns and work towards creating solutions or merely listening and offering support to those in need. New friendships often spring from these groups as the members begin to learn about and care for each other,
For longer term respite care, which would give you a chance to get away for a vacation, many nursing homes are offering respite care for your aging relative, if they have beds available. The cost is not covered by Medicare but may be worth it if your family needs time away together. This may be the best solution for someone who cannot be left alone and needs constant supervision in your absence.
In the event that future plans must be consistently put on hold, caregiver may find a “wish list” helpful. The list can contain any or all of the large and small things you want to do when you have the time. In this way, you keep the perspective of your own life in focus and take your own needs seriously, even within the constraints of your current situation.
An excellent way to reduce physical and emotional tension is to get enough exercise. In keeping the body moving through walking, running, swimming or housework, the muscles that may cause us pain when tense, learn to relax and ease the feelings of tightness that tension produces. Proper exercise also helps us to sleep more restfully, be more alert and to feel more completely in control of our lives.
The following Tension Releasing Exercises can be used at any time to ease tightened muscles.
- Stand and stretch as high as you can reach. Bend from waist and hang loosely, drop your head and bounce gently 10 times. Stand straight and repeat.
- Drop chin to chest and slowly rotate head around front and back – 3 times in both directions.
- Pull shoulders back and rotate forward and back 5 times. Reverse direction and repeat 5 times.
- Lie flat on floor. Inhale through your nose, with eyes closed using your stomach muscles as much as possible, to the count of 5. Then purse your lips and blow out to the count of 10. Try to clear your mind of all anxious thoughts and focus on how good this makes you feel.
Sometimes the hardest part of beginning to care for yourself is getting started. Let people know that you need help, that you trust in their ability to help and you are grateful for the time to replenish yourself and your energies.