November is National Caregivers Month—an important time to remember to take care of yourself when taking care of family members.
Top Tips for Family Caregivers
Seek support from other caregivers.
Consider joining a caregiver support group, either in your own community or online. Meeting other caregivers can relieve your sense of isolation and will give you a chance to exchange stories and ideas. The Cape Fear Council of Governments offers several support groups for caregivers here in the Wilmington area.
Take care of your own health.
Caregivers need to pay attention to physical and emotional symptoms that can affect your own health and well-being. You need to guard against caregiver burnout and avoid becoming overly tired and exhausted, which can reduce your own body’s ability to ward off illness. Try to create balance between caring for others and caring for you. A few ways to do this include:
Accept offers of help and ask for help.
Asking for help doesn’t come easy for caregivers. You are used to being the one taking care of others, and not wanting to reach out and ask for help. Try making a list of your responsibilities, then divide them up into categories of tasks that others may be able to help you complete. For example, household chores, transportation to appointments, or running errands are tasks that others may be able help with. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Most people don’t know what you need, but would love to help as able. They might not be able to take your loved one to a doctor appointment, but they can run to the grocery store or vacuum for you.
Learn how to communicate effectively with doctors.
Sharing information with the doctor about current symptoms of the person you are caring for is helpful (especially if they cannot effectively communicate themselves). Writing down information and questions ahead of time, will also help you remember what you want to tell the doctor. Be sure to let them know if they are having trouble with daily activities like bathing or dressing, or any changes in behavior.
If the doctor does not specifically ask for information you think is important, then tell them. Asking questions when you don’t understand something the doctor says is perfectly fine, too. Writing down instructions or any information during the appointment will help you remember what they say once you get home.
Ask the doctor to write down what you should do between now and the next visit. This may include instructions for how to take medications, or lifestyle modifications that are necessary.
Watch for signs of depression and caregiver burnout.
Caregiver burnout is a state of physical, emotional, and mental exhaustion that may be accompanied by a change in attitude—from positive and caring to negative and unconcerned. Burnout can occur when caregivers don’t get the help they need, or if they try to do more than they are able—either physically or financially. Caregivers who are “burned out” may experience fatigue, stress, anxiety, and depression. Many caregivers also feel guilty if they spend time on themselves rather than on their ill or elderly loved ones.
Take respite breaks often.
Consider giving yourself the gift of respite, or rest, temporarily, from your caregiving duties. If you are able to manage it financially, many senior living facilities offer short term care for an elder so that family caregivers can take a break, get away, or just have freedom from the responsibility for a bit. Often, the senior living facility will care for your elder for a weekend, or a week, without further obligation to move in or sign on for any other services. A nice place to stay, meals, socialization and sometimes special events are all made available to the elder. You pay by the day, or weekend, or week, according to how the facility creates respite care for those who do not live full time in the facility.
The single most important thing you can do to function effectively as a caregiver is to create and maintain a comprehensive file of information about the person you are caring for. There is a variety of ways to create and maintain a patient file. Some people prefer paper, some electronic, some a combination of both. You can keep this information in any form that works best for you, although most people simply put it in a binder or folder. It doesn’t have to be pretty, it just has to work for you. The important thing is that it provides easy access and can be efficiently updated and shared when needed.
What should go in the Patient File?
And last, but not least, give yourself some credit!
This is one of the most important jobs you will ever do, so take the well-deserved credit for doing the best that you can!
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