Through intense caregiving experiences with my mother-in-law who died of cancer, and now with my father-in-law, I’ve learned that although caregiving brings much joy, it can also take a toll on the caregiver’s health. As caregivers, we are naturally worried about and focused on taking care of our loved one. Sometimes our devotion to that causes us to stop taking care of our own basic needs.
Caregivers typically don’t get enough sleep. They don’t eat well. They don’t get any consistent exercise. They don’t spend as much time as they used to on personal care, and grooming (which can feed into negative self-esteem issues). Also, many caregivers don’t do anything on a regular basis to manage the added stress in their lives.
And there’s more:
Caregivers generally don’t go to their doctors for regular check-ups and screenings, even if they are experiencing health problems. Common sense tells us that to have the energy we need to care for others, we must take care of ourselves. Unfortunately, in the midst of a caregiving situation, that concept is much easier said than done.
Here’s a checkist for some basic self-care for caregivers:
—Make sure your immunizations are up to date
—Get your flu shot once a year (if you have questions or concerns ask your doctor)
—Take a daily multi-vitamin (ask your doctor or pharmacist if you have any questions about which formula would be best for you)
—Get a pneumonia vaccine
—Get a tetanus booster every ten years
—Get a yearly physical
—Get the recommended cancer screenings based on your age and family history
—Tell your doctor that you are a caregiver – this is so important. Saying this buzzword at the outset should send a strong message to your doctor, telling him or her to look at you in a different way. Saying that you’re a caregiver will alert your doctor that you are dealing with higher than normal levels of stress, and that you need some extra care and attention. If you don’t sense that is happening…get a new doctor!
—Tell your doctor if you’re feeling depressed or nervous (a lot of caregivers are and might not even realize it), mention any sleeping or eating problems, or feelings of sadness, helplessness or hopelessness that don’t go away. Caregivers are twice as likely to develop depression. New therapies and medicines have made depression easier to treat. Don’t be afraid of a diagnosis. Get help.
Following these guidelines will put you on a path to a healthier caregiving lifestyle.