Self Care for Family Caregivers

“I don’t even have time to finish my caregiving tasks.  Where do I find time to take care of myself?”

People who are caregivers often juggle a packed schedule that may include full-time work, family obligations, household chores, and volunteer commitments in addition to caregiving.  Due to busy schedules, caregivers often ignore their own health and wellness, including their nutrition, medical, exercise, and socialization needs. As a result, caregivers often experience increased stress, sleep problems, and depression.  These symptoms not only impact the health of the caregiver but can impact the quality of care provided to the care receiver.  However, these symptoms can be relieved when you add taking care of yourself to the “to do” list.

As a caregiver, taking time for your own needs is easier said than done.  What happens if you are caring full-time for someone who can’t be left alone?  24 hour care for a loved one can be stressful and draining.  However, even when providing 24 hour care, it is possible to schedule time for self-care.  To begin with, caregivers can try to set a regular “mini-break” while in the home.  If the care receiver takes an afternoon nap caregivers can utilize this time for a relaxing bath, reading, browsing through a gardening catalogue, or to catch up with a friend by telephone.  When there is so much that needs to be done caregivers are often reluctant to take this time for themselves.  Many caregivers spend these free moments doing other related caregiving tasks, such as phone calls, paperwork, grocery lists, or calendaring.  Caregivers who do take a “mini break” in their day are able to provide better care for the care receiver.  Taking time for yourself is not selfish and recharges your energy and spirit to allow you to continue to provide care.

Another option for caregivers is to investigate their local respite options which provide a longer break from care.  Respite can be provided formally through an organization or agency or informally through neighbors, family, and friends.  Community organizations, home care agencies, and adult day programs can provide paid respite for a loved one for a few hours, an entire day, or even overnight.  Many of these paid providers are also able to provide meals, showers, and other cares to reduce the workload of the caregiver.  A longer break allows the caregiver time for social events, exercise, support groups, and other activities to enhance their mental, spiritual, and physical well-being.

Informal respite is a less expensive way for the caregiver to get some time away.  Think about your support network and make a list of neighbors, friends, coworkers, members of a congregation or synagogue, and others that might be willing to assist with some caregiving tasks to alleviate your burden.  Many caregivers do not like to ask for help.  Alternately, many people who want to help have no idea what kind of help is needed. One way to address these issues and coordinate requests for help is to set up an online care team.

An online care team allows the caregiver or designated person to enter specific help that is desired onto a calendar.  The caregiving tasks, including respite breaks for the caregiver, are added and people in the online care team can sign up to help.   Activities can be one time, daily, or weekly and can cover a broad range of activities.    Caregivers can add “Visit with mom from 4-8 pm” and use this time to take a break from caregiving.   Other frequent activities might include transportation to doctor appointments, bringing dinner, grocery shopping, or organizing paperwork.  Online care teams reduce the need for repeated calls from the caregiver to find help or for schedule changes.  Medical or other updates can also be posted on the site by the caregiver or other online care team members.  This saves time for the caregiver and keeps everyone in the online care team informed.  Two frequently used online communities where you can set up your care team are and .

Caregivers who make self-care a priority are happier, experience less stress, and are able to continue longer in providing care for their loved one.  It is a win-win situation for the caregiver and care receiver.

Mary Cordell, LSW, Family Consultant, Eldercare Partners

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