July 2, 2021
Reading Time 7 min.

The Need for Caregiver Self Care When Caring for the Elderly

Advances in medicine today have given people the ability to live longer in recent generations. This has given rise to the need for caregivers for this aging population. Many adult children find themselves as caregivers, regardless of whether or not they wanted the position. This can lead to increased stress, anxiety, depression and burnout among those who find themselves as caregivers. It is hard enough managing your own family, job, errands and appointment. Add in other person or two to care for and you can see an obvious need for caregiver self care.

Qualifications required for someone who wants to pursue caregiving as a career is having a compassionate heart, being unselfish, commitment and flexibility, including a respectful and supportive manner. What if you didn't choose caregiving as a career but find the role thrust upon you? In this situation, taking care of yourself is even more important.

For paid caregivers, it is their job, but for the rest of us, we have our own jobs, family and lives to contend with as well...

What is the Definition of a Caregiver? 

A survey in the British Isles revealed that in their 40s and 50s, one in every two women is a caregiver. Studies show that the emotional turmoil and problems that these caregivers face can be unbearable at times. To put it in a simple terms, a caregiver is anyone who consistently looks after an elderly person, disabled person, or a young child.  

Look for These Caregiver Burnout Signs 

caregiver self care required to avoid burnout

Dr. Fredrick Sherman of the American Geriatrics Society reveals that more than 50% of caregivers experience depression from caregiving during their first year. If you are an elderly caregiver dealing with your own limitations and health issues, this can deepen your depression.  

Caregiver responsibilities vary as no two caregivers experience the same challenges involved in their day to day activities. Each patient is different in their personality and temperament, just as each ailment is not the same.  

The kind of relationship you had with the patient before they required assistance plays a significant part in how your interactions will go as caregiver and person needing care. If you have had a strained relationship with the person in the past and now they are requiring assistance and do not wan't your help, tempers can quickly flare. If this happens, make sure they are safe and then take a few minutes away from them.

Come back when you can be calm and explain what needs to happen. Make sure to listen to their concerns. Show them your are listening by repeating their point of view in your own words and ask if you are correct. Even if y'all do not agree, this strategy will make them more likely to listen to your point of view.

Caregiving can take both a physical and psychological toll on anyone. Thus, it is important for caregivers to look for caregiver burnout signs; the problem is that many caregivers are not aware that they are suffering from caregiver burnout until it is too late.  

Signs that a caregiver needs to be on the lookout for include: 

  • Lack of energy. 
  • Overwhelming fatigue. 
  • Sleep problems. 
  • Withdrawing from or losing interest in things they’ve once enjoyed. 

There are a host of other signs that can be looked up under "caregiver burnout". Being burnt out can leave you feeling empty and mentally exhausted, devoid of motivation and beyond caring.  

Caregiver Martyr Syndrome with Caregiver Self Care

Caregiver self care journal

As caregivers, we need to understand the importance of sharing our experiences with others. Finding someone to talk to allows us to unburden ourselves. This will provide the moral support necessary to reduce stress. A listening ear and a shoulder to cry on at times are exactly what is needed. Family and friends rarely realize that the primary caregiver often has to bear the brunt of the patient's limitations and frustrations as he or she is their first line of defense or offense.  

At the same time, a person like Phyllis should not be guilty of caregiver martyr syndrome where she feels she is the only who knows how to properly care for her elderly parents. Most caregivers feel this way at some point.  

The importance of getting some help cannot be over stated. Friends in the community and family members who are able to provide practical help cannot be emphasized enough. Family can lend their support by relieving the caregiver for a few hours, allowing you to attend a religious event or some other activity while they look after the patient. If friends and family is not an option there are respite care for the elderly services which can provide assistance for set periods of time.

Utilizing others to assist with tasks not directly associated with patient care can also reduce our stress and burden of care. Tasks like running errands, mowing the lawn, laundry and shopping can be outsourced to decrease the amount of chores we as caregivers are responsible for.

When you feel like you are at your wit's end, ask for help. Often, we try to put on a brave face and handle the challenges alone. No one can read our minds, so it is critical to let other know when we need help. Making these concerns known is the best way to have support of others. Even with other family states away, there are way they can assist with the burden of care. Contributing financially can allow a paid caregiver to assist for a few hours a week. This may be exactly the break you need.

The book "The 36 hour Day" reveals that it is vitally important that you at times get away from the 24-hour care of the patient. Can a family member take on the responsibility for the day?  

At the same time, do not give in to feelings of guilt when away from the patient. Is there perhaps an adult daycare center in your area that will be able to care for your loved one for the day?  

Tips for caregiver self care 

Keep in mind that the quality of care you are able to give your patient will greatly depend on your own caregiver self-care.  

So do take care of yourself first; this is not a luxury; it's a necessity. This point is illustrated every time you get on an airplane. In the even of a situation and the oxygen masks drop down, you are required to put on your own oxygen mask first before attempting to help others. Self care and caring for others is no different.

Caregiver self care includes getting away from the patient at times.

7 Caregiver self-care tips to help a caregiver cope with the demands placed on them, include: 

  • Meditation: Taking time to meditate. Focusing on your breathing with a guided meditation for beginners reduces stress and anxiety. In time you will notice your communication with the cared for is improving as you begin to build a slight pause between stimulus and response. Four minute meditation to beginners.
  • Gratitude practice: Writing down 5 things you are thankful for no matter how silly they may seem. Do this every morning. This has been shown to improve your baseline happiness and reduce stress and worry.
  • Many caregivers have found spirituality gives them strength and comfort for themselves and the patient. Reading encouraging literature together and praying together builds the bond.  
  • Keeping a journal and recording how you have grown as a person, including certain qualities you needed to enhance. In addition to the gratitude practice mentioned above, journaling about the challenges of caregiving is another way to relieve stress and get out some frustration at times.  
  • Develop a sense of humor. Try to appreciate the oddities or silliness found in a difficult situation.
  • Make time for exercise, especially together if possible. This will benefit you and the loved one you are caring for.  
  • Repeating positive affirmations. Changing negative self talk to empowering positive affirmations will improve your outlook on life and allow you to focus on the good things.  

Focusing on caregiver self care is the best way to make sure you are able to provide the needed care for your loved one.

At some point, your loved one will require more assistance than you can provide. This is a natural next step. Do not beat yourself up for no longer being able to care for your aging parent. There are many options available from home healthcare, to continuing care retirement communities, to hospice vs palliative care.

This can be a tough decision to make as a caregiver as feelings of guilt may surface. This is not abnormal. 

Acknowledge your feelings, do not push them aside. But know that you have done the best you can for your loved one. Every day they were able to stay at home because of your help, increased their quality of life.

After they transition to the next level of care, share your feeling with close friends or a community of individuals going through the same thing. It is amazing the strength we can draw from each other. You never know what kind of positive impact you experience may have on another caregiver.

Once you are no longer the primary caregiver, it is just as important to focus on self care. You likely have lost contact with friends, family and co-workers while caring for your loved one. Getting back to having a social life is difficult, but worth the effort. It will improve your emotional state and mental health.

Conclusion 

So as caregivers and those that will be taking on the role as caregivers in the time to come, we need to be aware of the need to look after ourselves first and foremost. Do not neglect your own mental, physical and emotional health. Physical exercise is vital, even if it is a walk around your neighborhood block. A healthy diet and sleep will give your body the necessary strength to cope under trying circumstances. 

Do not feel ashamed that you are asking for help when needed, as some might assume that you are handling matters just fine.  

Find trusted resources, and others who have been through this process before. They can help you and be a guide for you. Knowing what to expect can improve your ability to provided the best care possible for your loved one and improve their quality of life. 

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That's all for today.

Take care, keep mom safe and have a great day!

Winn

Articles of Interest:

  1. AGING IN PLACE DEFINITION
  2. CAREGIVER QUOTES TO INSPIRE CAREGIVERS
  3. HOME CARE FOR SENIORS TO HELP THEM LIVE INDEPENDENTLY

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