Some 43.5 million Americans are currently unpaid caregivers, a 2015 study found. The average caregiver is a 49-year-old woman working almost 60 hours a week – more than 34 hours outside the home plus over 24 more hours caring for an elder female. And teetering at the edge of caregiver burnout.
Bad as those numbers may sound, they’re going to get worse. As Baby Boomers age, the younger demographic cohorts who follow them will be smaller in number, putting more pressure on fewer caregivers to care for more elders. And that pressure takes a toll on caregivers’ physical and emotional health.
In that 2015 study, more than 20 percent of caregivers – almost 9 million people – reported that caregiving worsened their health, with mood changes, anxiety, aches and pains, stress overeating, and sleep disorders including insomnia.
So if you’re a caregiver, it’s vitally important to take care of yourself.
Give yourself a full eight hours of sleep each night. Mentally step back and take a realistic look at yourself for changes in your sleep patterns, your moods, your diet. Find someone you can openly talk, and even vent, with – a friend, your spouse, a support group or chat room, a counselor, health care professional or clergy member.
Give yourself a break every so often to walk or jog with a friend, soak in a bubble bath, take in a movie, listen to music, or do something else you enjoy. And don’t ask permission for it; just present it gently but matter-of-factly and stick around long enough to ease the transition to your reliever. (Having a neighbor to come by for a walk or having a dog to walk can make your time out a fait accompli.)
Above all, don’t guilt yourself into feeling that you have to do everything yourself. As Iris Waichler, author of Role Reversal: How to Take Care of Yourself and Your Aging Parents, advises, “Perceive getting help not as a sign of weakness, but as a sign of strength.”
And make sure the help you ask for is neither more nor less than you need. If your family member needs help with bathing or dressing, for example, you don’t need to pay extra for a nurse’s skills, while at the same time you’ll need more help than, say, a housekeeper can provide. Our thorough three-part assessmentof your family member’s physical, psychosocial and mental status specifies what help you need
Take a break for a free 30-minute consultation with us. It could be the first step in taking care of yourself while you take care of your elder.