A caregiver is anyone who provides care for another person in need. According to womenshealth.gov, in 2012, 36% of Americans, most of whom are women, provided unpaid care to another adult in the past year. As Baby Boomers age, this number is expected to rise. Self-care is often thrown aside by caregivers due to their caring and compassionate nature. That said, self-care is vital for the caregivers in order to live a full and happy life.
Caregivers are special people – big-hearted, sensitive, responsible, well-intentioned; they are motivated by and feel a great sense of satisfaction knowing they are doing right by their loved one. However, it is often at the expense of the caregiver’s health and results in Caregiver Syndrome.
What is caregiver syndrome?
Caregiver syndrome is a state of physical, emotional, and mental exhaustion resulting from the caregiver’s lack of self-care. It is typically a chronic, long-term challenge as the caregiver often faces years of caregiving responsibilities. Caregivers of those with dementia are among the most likely to suffer from Caregiver Syndrome. If you are caring for a spouse; if you live with the person you are caring for; if your loved one exhibits behavior or care needs that are challenging; if you feel you have no choice about caregiving; if you are responsible for young children as well as the person for whom you are providing care, you are at more risk of suffering from Caregiver Syndrome.
Without sufficient help and support, the caregiver is left vulnerable to wide range of physical and emotional problems, putting their health at risk and affecting their ability to provide care. Some of the physical health risks include heart disease, depression, compromised immune system, weight gain, and sleep deprivation.
It is easy to get caught up in all of the things that our loved one needs, but if you aren’t healthy, who is going to care for your loved one? Taking care of yourself is of the utmost importance. (There is a reason why the flight attendants tell the passengers to put their air masks on before assisting anyone else!)
Self-care tips for caregivers
Here are some tips to prevent or manage caregiver stress and help avoid Caregiver Syndrome:
- Ask for and accept help. This can be a friend or a professional. Having even a few hours were extremely important in maintaining one’s own health.
- Take care of your health. Find time to go for a walk, or other exercise, even if it’s not for an optimal length of time. Fresh air and sunlight can do wonders.
- Join a support group. Being a caregiver can be very isolating. Joining a support group puts you in contact with others dealing with very similar circumstances as you – they “get” it in a way others may not, and understanding you are not alone can help a lot.
- Talk to a professional. Most therapists, social workers, and clergy members are trained to work with individuals dealing with a wide range of issues, including those suffered by caregivers.
Whatever you are able to do for yourself will help you care for your loved one. You owe it to you both.
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