Caregivers field questions from others on a regular basis. Well-meaning friends and/or colleagues can often ask “How’s your Mom / Dad doing?” “How are you doing?” might be a better question to ask. Caregiving involves more than just one person and the job can – and does – take its toll on those who help and support aging seniors.
A family caregiver needs to routinely ask him/herself, “How am I doing” as well. It can be very easy to completely focus on the needs of an aging parent; however, the work can easily become all consuming. Family caregivers can be kept running day and night resulting in reduced time for their careers, their families, their interests/hobbies, and even themselves. Consider as well that one’s own caregiving clock never stops … even if one is away from Mom/Dad, one’s mind cannot easily stop thinking about them or making plans for what needs to be done tomorrow, next week, or within the next six months. If it seems like caregivers are always “on-duty”, you’re correct. Learning how to better balance one’s time is one option … completely breaking away can be a better answer.
When a family caregiver questions his/her own health, he/she can better identify when physical exhaustion is increasing, when concentration levels are slipping, when lack of social contact and/or complete isolation becomes the norm, and/or when stress is mounting. Instead of vainly trying to handle everything, a family caregiver can practice self-care – this can become a vital coping mechanism! Such self-care can take any form – the only requirement is that it must be an activity that the caregiver personally enjoys. As a former co-caregiver for my own aging parents, I chose to walk and write. A doctor I know once explained to me that he often takes the long way when driving back home following a busy workday or parks in his driveway for a few minutes before going inside to decompress – a wise decision to effectively deal with any lingering problems before potentially bottling everything up inside or lashing out at unknowing family members!
Caregiver respite can be very simple or more creative. As an example, why not order in a meal once a week? This will save you time in the kitchen both preparing the meal and cleaning up afterwards. By doing so, you could also introduce more variety into your own weekly menu and even try new food – order pizza one week, Chinese the next, and Thai the week following! If your budget is tight, an alternative could be to take advantage of your crockpot and cook up some meals in advance. These could be individually bagged and placed in your freezer ready for use. With all prepared meals, you could think about doubling the recipe to ensure that you have plenty of leftovers which can be simply heated up in your microwave oven for quick and easy meals. Better yet, involve your other family members – you could create a weekly schedule and assign different people to cook and clean, thereby allowing you some time.
The question of “How am I doing?” is vital for new and/or more experienced caregivers to ask themselves. Take a few moments to assess your energy level and mood and you can find out if you are becoming consumed with caregiving. Don’t just stop with pinpointing problems … manage those issues before they manage you by taking personal respite time. By remaining aware of and managing your own health and well-being, you can become a far better and more effective caregiver for someone you love – and that helps all parties involved!
Please watch for my further discussion and tips on caregiver self-care in the months ahead on The Caregiver Network.