Caregiver Corner: Practicing Self-Care

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Caregivers know they should take care of themselves. Nearly everyone they meet gives them that advice. But for some caregivers, there never seems to be enough time to eat the right foods, do their exercises and take their own medications because they are frantically busy from one moment to the next, day after day, focusing on their loved one’s needs. Self-care makes sense to them but seems nearly impossible to achieve.

Unfortunately, the risks they run for self-neglect can be great over time. Research has shown that caregivers who have diabetes or hypertension and don’t take proper care of those chronic conditions often suffer worse health consequences. Caregivers who don’t take time to replenish themselves through fun activities are also more prone to burning out. Ultimately, it’s in the caregiver’s and care receiver’s interests that the caregiver maintains good physical and emotional health. That can be accomplished in several ways.

Don’t just pivot toward each urgent caregiving demand. Being reactive is not as good a coping strategy as planning. Try to gain a greater sense of control over caregiving by anticipating the care receiver’s needs in advance and then creating more organized daily and weekly schedules. That could mean scheduling in extra time in the morning when your loved one is slow to get out of bed, in the afternoon when he becomes fatigued or in the evening when he has increased confusion.  It also means picking up prescriptions and supplies long before you run out. Not only will you feel more in charge of caregiving but you will be able to then plan for other life activities, including taking care of the household, other family members and yourself.

Create a daily routine with time for self-care—and then stick to it. We often justify to ourselves too easily setting aside our own needs to attend to the needs of others. Believe in the importance of recharging your batteries and make it a priority by arranging for coverage so that you can take a walk, go to the gym and see your own primary care provider.

Keep self-care pragmatic. As much fun as it would be to go on a two-week cruise or take in dinner and a show, you may not have large blocks of available time. Find small ways that you can care for yourself every day, such as regularly taking your blood sugars (if you are a diabetic), reading a book for a half hour before going to bed or catching a 20-minute nap. Those simple activities, practiced faithfully, can make the difference between bolstering your resilience or declining in health.

Contact the Area Agency on Aging and Disabilities of Southwest Washington at (360) 694-8144 or IAClark@dshs.wa.gov  to learn more about supports available to seniors and family caregivers. Article content is provided by Active Daily Living.

Commentary provided by the Area Agency on Aging and Disabilities of Southwest Washington.

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