Caregivers, Don’t Forget About Self-care

If you’re one of the nearly 66 million Americans providing care for another adult, you may think the person in your care should be your top priority. This attitude could be detrimental to both of you.

Women significantly outnumber men as caregivers, according to the Family Caregiver Alliance. For these women, adding the responsibilities of caregiving — which may include assisting a loved one with errands, household chores, hygiene, in-home medical care and personal finance — to the tasks of being a working professional, wife and mother can send stress levels soaring.

“The physical and emotional health concerns of caregivers can be overwhelming,” says Badia Harlin, D.N.P., M.S., B.S.N., F.N.P.-C., nurse practitioner at the Senior Health & Wellness Center at Texas Health Harris Methodist Hospital Fort Worth. “Physically, caregivers may experience sleep disturbances, headaches, fatigue, digestive problems, and weight loss or gain. They may also face emotional challenges, such as depression, irritability and feelings of isolation.”

Caregivers are more vulnerable than noncaregivers to a variety of chronic illnesses, including cancer, diabetes and heart disease, according to the American Academy of Family Physicians. What can you do to stay healthy while caregiving? Let these tips guide you.

1. Find Your Peace

Taking a brain-and-body break each day, even if it’s just for 10 minutes, is essential. Use the time to do something you find relaxing and enjoyable, such as taking a walk, reading a few pages in a book or sitting in your garden.

2. Practice the Pillars of Prevention

Follow these basic tenets of good health — exercise regularly, eat a nutritious diet and get at least seven hours of sleep per night — even when you’re pressed for time. For example, prepare healthy snacks, such as apple wedges or carrot sticks and hummus, for both you and the person in your care, and look for opportunities to be active together.

3. Don’t Be Afraid of the “H” Word

“Help” isn’t a dirty word — it’s OK to ask for and accept it, whether it’s a friend’s offer to cook a meal for you or sit with your loved one while you take time for yourself. If you’re not a caregiver, look for opportunities to help someone who is.

“If you know anyone who is a caregiver, offer to help in any way you can,” Dr. Harlin says. “A trip to the grocery store can mean the world to a caregiver.”

4. Remember What You Mean to Your Loved One

Stay up-to-date with preventive screenings, and if you feel ill, don’t try to power through it — arrange for alternative care for your loved one.

“Don’t feel guilty about caring for yourself because if you don’t, you may not be able to care for your loved one,” Dr. Harlin says. “Caregivers have to make their own health a priority.”

Need a place to turn to for comprehensive medical services for a senior in your care, as well as support for you? The Senior Health & Wellness Center at Texas Health Harris Methodist Hospital Fort Worth has what you need to keep you and your loved one well.

Physicians on the medical staff practice independently and are not employees or agents of the hospital or Texas Health Resources.

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