When you’re a family caregiver for a loved one, it’s easy to get consumed by their needs.
You spend your days thinking about all the ways you can make sure he or she gets the best possible care – working with skilled nursing facility staff to coordinate medical appointments and specialist visits, talking with dietitians about meeting dietary needs, and providing love and support to your family member as their health and abilities change with age. It’s an around-the-clock job that leaves time for little else.
But who’s making sure your needs are being met – who is caring for the caregiver?
It’s estimated that more than 65 million Americans are currently acting in some capacity as unpaid caregivers for a member of their family. It’s time to talk about how to protect the well-being of the millions of family members who put the needs of someone they love ahead of their own.
If you are a caregiver for a family member living in a skilled nursing facility, read on to learn more about ways you can protect your own physical and mental health so you can keep up with your caregiving responsibilities for years to come.
Numerous studies have shown that caring for a family member can result in negative effects on your physical health. Caregivers are more likely to suffer from chronic health conditions and often report skipping their own medical appointments as they try to juggle their family, work, and caregiving responsibilities. But neglecting your health doesn’t help anyone – you may think you need to sacrifice your own needs to make more time for the loved one you care for, but if your health begins to suffer, you both lose.
It’s just as important for caregivers to attend to their own health as it is for them to attend to the health of their loved ones. You have to take care of yourself to be able to provide care and support to your family member.So, for example, don’t just work to make sure your loved one’s dietary needs are met – you also need to eat a healthy and nutritious diet to give your body the fuel it needs to get through your long and stressful days.Take breaks whenever you can, and get some exercise – even if that means a brief walk outside. And try to get as much sleep as possible; you’ll be much more prepared to take on each day if you’ve had a good night’s rest.
Research has also shown that family caregivers have an increased risk of mental health issues. They are twice as likely to experience depression, and many report feeling isolated – in fact, one in ten family caregivers say they feel they have no one to talk to about private matters, and one in five feel they have no one they can ask for help. Caregivers are also at risk of experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety, and dependency on drugs or alcohol.
Typically, caregivers don’t plan to assume their caregiving responsibilities – in most instances, it’s something that just happened once a family member suffered a debilitating injury or got an untimely diagnosis. It can mean a major upheaval in your regular daily life, so it’s important to stay tuned in to your mental health. Check-in with yourself regularly to judge how you’re feeling – and be honest.
It may also be helpful to reach out to support groups or online forums where other caregivers who’ve had similar experiences feel safe to share both the good and bad that comes with being a family caregiver.There are also podcasts you can listen to created by and for caregivers that address the many aspects of the caregiving experience.
Ask for Help
Finally, don’t be afraid to ask for help. Too often, caregivers feel as though they have to shoulder all the burdens of caregiving on their own, even if their loved one has other family members who could participate in providing care. One out of four caregivers say they feel their family relationships have been diminished because of their caregiving responsibilities, so keep other family members engaged in the caregiving process by creating a “circle of care,” a group that regularly talks about your loved one’s health and needs. This may make it easier for them to understand your daily responsibilities and recognize ways they can offer help.