When a person is diagnosed with a Chronic illness, focus naturally centers on the patient. This is necessary, for proper treatment and disease management. While most patients have a Support System (or should for best results), many will at some point require a caregiver. This individual, whoever he or she may be, is an essential part of that patient’s life and a vital part of their disease management. They are also, often times, neglected. And that’s an unacceptable risk. Which is why it is imperative to take care of the caregiver …
Make no mistake, there is nothing easy about the task. Care-giving can be very difficult. It’s mentally, physically and emotionally challenging. I have answered the call, twice in my life. At age 30, I was my father’s caregiver when he was diagnosed with Stage 4 Lung cancer. At 48, I was my mother’s caregiver when she was diagnosed with a very rare cancer (Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma Primary to the Bone). Both were extremely different experiences, despite the fact that both of my parents had cancer. Never think, for a moment, that previous experience prepares you to be a caregiver. It does not. Each patient is unique. And each will require different levels of care. When I reflect back on both of my care-giving experiences, I am reminded of a quote from the Charles Dickens novel A Tale Of Two Cities, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” By that, I mean that there were special moments that I will forever hold dear in memory. But there were also times that were heart-wrenching, scary, overwhelming and physically/mentally exhausting. That is care-giving, in a nutshell. Yet, if I had to make the decision again, I would do so. But that’s just me. The responsibility isn’t for everyone. And there is no sin in admitting that.
If you are a caregiver, or considering the duty, take a moment to reflect upon the demands of the position. And by all means, take preventative action for your own health. No caregiver, regardless of age, is immune to stress … fatigue … or depression. In fact, I would wager that a caregiver is more vulnerable. Why? Because a caregiver naturally puts his/her needs, on the back-burner. As a caregiver, the priority must be the patient that he/she is caring for. So, caregivers often neglect what their bodies need. But if you allow your own health to decline, who is that really helping?
When caring for my dad, his Hospice nurse gave me some priceless advice, “Do something for yourself, because he needs you.” Nancy was so right. It can be once a day, for 30-60 minutes. Or possibly, it’s just once a week. It doesn’t matter which you choose. If you are a caregiver, do something for you, i.e. a massage, a yoga class, a walk around the block, a Bible study, an art class, etc. Indulging in a little “Me Time” may feel a bit selfish, at first. Yet it is vital to keeping you healthy, relaxed and mentally sharp. So, get out and indulge yourself. Then, you can consider these additional tips:
- Get some exercise. Even in regular, small increments, it can boost your energy level. Exercise also reduces stress, helps you maintain a healthy weight, etc.
- Eat healthy. This too will give you more energy. Eating healthy can help prevent other health problems, too. Also remember to snack healthy.
- Don’t Forget How To Laugh. Laughter is good medicine. Try to find some humor in your day-to-day experience as a caregiver. Share a laugh with the loved one in your care (he/she needs joy too)!
- Watch-out for depression. The demands placed on you as a caregiver can be difficult and stressful. Stay vigilant. Talk to your doctor, if you think you are experiencing symptoms, i.e. sad, anxious, anger, feeling helpless, irritable, weight loss or gain, sleep issues, difficulty concentrating, etc.
- Takin’ Care of Business. Remember that retro phrase? Well, it’s good practice. Balance your checkbook. Pay bills. Work when you need to. Save for a special outing, anniversary, or trip. It’s good for both of you!
- Keep Your Dr. appointments. If you’re sick, you won’t be able to do what your loved one needs. So, visit your doctor & dentist regularly. Get your lab-work, or flu shot. Your good health is the fuel that keeps this care-giving engine running!
- Optimism is key. Refresh your mind, every day. Yes, you have limitations. We all do. So, let go of that guilt. Acknowledge the job that you’re doing. It’s special and important. Like other things, care-giving has a learning-curve. You will get there.
- Stay connected. Use the phone, internet, newspaper, etc. But, by all means, stay connected to the outside world & what is happening around you.
Last, but not least, if you need help … ask for it! Call a family-member or friend and ask for some assistance. Talk to your doctor and your loved one. If the patient’s level of care becomes too extensive, it could be time to consider hiring a professional caregiver. If you need to work, consider utilizing Adult Day-care options in your area. Just remember … you aren’t alone. There are many who are willing to offer ideas and alternatives. Don’t be afraid to seek their advice. Take care of your loved one — and you!
*Photo by James Hose, Jr., on Unsplash