Caregivers Need to Care for Themselves as Well
When caring for an aging loved one, do you ever ask, When is it okay to take care of myself? Or, How long can I go on like this?
Caring for an aging loved one is a labor of love, but it is labor. As your elder becomes more frail and needs more of your time and energy, you may find yourself giving up outside activities and vacations, saying no to friends, feeling distracted at work, and getting stressed at home. If you try to do everything, you risk neglecting your own health.
To stay afloat, you will need the help of friends; family members; relatives; local, community-based organizations; and hands-on resources. You will need wisdom, inspiration, and discernment, because your many responsibilities leave little time and energy for self-care.
Most of all, you will need God's grace to help you stay faithful to fulfill your role as a caregiver effectively and compassionately.
Preserving Your Health and Well-Being
As a caregiver, it is critical for you to take good care of yourself — even while you are taking care of your aging loved one. Finding that balance can be a challenge, but now is the time to establish some healthy goals and habits. If you already are nearing the point of burnout, it is time to identify the reasons and make some changes.
Do you find yourself becoming chronically irritable? Too fatigued to eat right and exercise? Often depressed or hopeless? Feeling angry and guilty at the same time? These negative feelings are a signal that you need to take better care of yourself. Otherwise, your emotions will threaten your well-being, lower your resistance to disease, and make life miserable for you and your loved ones.
The physical demands of caregiving can also affect your health, aggravating osteoporosis or causing bursitis or damaged discs. Bathing or lifting an elderly person, for example, can be physically difficult for a caregiver to perform; carelessness can lead to injury, especially if you are pressed for time. You need to admit that there are limits to what one person can do and then seek some outside help.
The challenges of caregiving may seem formidable, and the consequences — emotional, physical, economic, relational, and spiritual — overwhelming. However, not everything associated with caregiving is difficult or stressful. Many caregivers gain a sense of fulfillment and satisfaction from their role. Support and encouragement from others is also helpful. In fact, the caregiving pathway is lined with hidden blessings if you know how to look for them. Where you least expect it, hope appears. The Lord's grace is tucked into hard places.
It is important for caregivers to have a support network in place for assistance and relief.
Those who do not have emotional support may suffer burnout. Consider these statistics from the National Family Caregivers Association:
- More elderly people enter nursing homes because of caregiver burnout than because of an exacerbation of their own condition.
- Sixty-one percent of "intense" family caregivers (those providing at least 21 hours of care a week) have suffered from depression.
- Three-fourths of all caregivers do not get consistent help from other family members.
- Eighty percent of all home care is provided by family caregivers.
The happier and healthier you are, the better your loved one will be served. Try these 11 ways to keep the threat of burnout at bay:
- Determine services available in your area, and ask for the help you need.
- Make healing habits of prayer, Bible and inspirational reading, music, and fellowship.
- Model an attitude of respect for both children and the elderly in your family.
- Plan your schedule around predictable mealtimes.
- Look ahead and include fun family activities in your schedule.
- Anticipate health concerns; keep nourishing snacks on hand, exercise consistently.
- Don't major on the minors with family members. (Save your steam for big problems.)
- Delegate household chores, but keep them simple.
- Listen well and learn to read between the lines with children or elders.
- Give yourself permission to enjoy hobbies. Take yourself out for a personal date.
- Don't entertain "what-ifs" and "if-onlys." Say, "I am doing the best I can."
Most caregivers have not planned for the role, and although many accept it with grace, others are forced to assume it. Most do not feel prepared to address the many issues ahead of them. You might be grieving the fact that the person you once looked to for advice and direction is now increasingly dependent on you.
Be Anxious for Nothing
Faith in our trustworthy God helps to dissolve our fear and personal insecurities. If, as the old hymn states, you are "cumbered with a load of care," tell the Lord about your worries. Follow this biblical advice:
"Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, shall guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus" (Philippians 4:6-7 NASB).
Remember that God is able to handle your concerns. Peace is promised as you lean on Him and learn to turn every worry and need over to Him. As you do this, your doubts and fears will begin to subside, even when you do not understand everything.
Taken from Caring for Aging Loved Ones, a Focus on the Family book published by Tyndale House Publishers. Copyright 2002, Tyndale House Publishers. All rights reserved. International copyright secured. Used by permission.