Senior Impact

Helpful Tips for Caregivers
*The following articles are referenced from P.H.D., Schmall, Vicki, R.N., Cleland, Marilyn and R.N., M.S.W., L.C.S.W. Sturdevant, Marilyn. The Caregiver Helpbook Powerful Tools for Caregiving, Nov., 2002.

Basic Wellness Practices

It is vital to maintain your health and well being. Ask yourself the following questions in the box below.

If you answered “yes” to all of these questions, congratulate yourself. A “no” response reflects areas to work on for better health.

Proper diet, adequate sleep and regular exercise are necessary for all of us, and even more so when we are caregivers. These lifestyle factors increase our resistance to illness and our ability to cope with stressful situations.

Exercise promotes better sleep, reduces tension and depression, and increases energy and alertness. If finding time to exercise is a problem, try to incorporate it into your usual day. Perhaps the person receiving care can walk or do stretching exercises with you. If necessary, do frequent short exercises instead of using large blocks of time. Find activities you enjoy.

Walking is considered one of the best and easiest exercises. It helps to reduce psychological tension as well as having physical benefits. Walking 20 minutes a day, three times a week, is very beneficial. If you can’t be away 20 minutes, 10 minute walks twice a day or even a 5 minute walk are beneficial.

Work walking into your life. Walk whenever and wherever you can. Perhaps it is easiest to walk around your block, at the mall, or a nearby park. The next time a friend or family member comes to visit, take time for a short walk. When the care receiver is getting therapy, take a walk around the medical facility.

Practicing Self-Care

To be an effective caregiver you need to maintain your own health and spirit, and to nurture yourself. All too often caregivers put their own needs last. Studies show that sacrificing yourself in giving care to another can lead to emotional exhaustion, depression and illness.

Maintaining your health and spirit can reduce your level of stress. It is critical to find activities that help you to stay healthy and nurture yourself. These activities are different for each individual. What works for one person may not work for another. You must find stress-reducing methods that work best for you.

We can learn a lot from a self-care program in Florida called “Getting Well.” This is a group of people who are supporting each other in learning to live and feel better. They take part in life-affirming activities such as “laughing, juggling, playing, meditating, painting, journal writing, exercising and eating nutritiously.” They demonstrate the necessity of associating with others who help you maintain your spirit and help you feel loved and supported.

To manage stress, it is essential to take breaks from caregiving. Plan them into your schedule, starting immediately, if you have not done so already. Studies show that caregivers often don’t take breaks until they are at the “end of their rope” or “burned out.”

This serves no one’s best interest as your ability to function can be seriously affected. To avoid problems, it is your responsibility to take time off from caregiving to refresh yourself.

It is important to the well being of care receivers that you take breaks. If you don’t, they may become increasingly dependent on you. If you take breaks, they will be less isolated and will benefit from having contact with other people. They also need breaks from you.
You are responsible for your own self-care. Practicing self-care means that you:
  • Learn and use stress reduction techniques;
  • Attend to your own health care needs;
  • Get proper rest and nutrition;
  • Exercise regularly;
  • Take time off without feeling guilty;
  • Participate in pleasant, nurturing activities.
  • Reward yourself.
  • Seek and accept the support of others.
  • Seek supportive counseling when you need to, or talk with a trusted counselor, religious advisor, or friend.
  • Identify and acknowledge your feelings.
  • Tell others what you need. Don’t assume “they should know.”
  • Change the negative ways you view situations.
  • Set goals and prioritize.
Reflect on what it means to practice self-care. Consider the items above. How do you fare? Are you caring for yourself as well as you are caring for another? Remember, it is only when we love and nurture ourselves that we are able to love and nurture another.

As a caregiver, appreciation and “thank you’s” for what you do may be lacking. For example, a person with Alzheimer’s disease may be unable to show appreciation for what is done. Everyone has a need for approval. It motivates us to keep going. If you don’t receive appreciation from other people, find a way to give it to yourself.

What would be helpful for you? Consider the following suggestions:
  • Acknowledge and take satisfaction in those things you do well.
  • Reward yourself on a regular basis.
  • Involve yourself in an activity that will provide positive feedback.
The Stress of Caregiving

There has been so much written about stress it has become a household word. Studies show that a certain amount of stress is helpful. It can challenge us to change and motivate us to do things we might not do otherwise. However, when the amount of stress overwhelms our ability to cope with it, we feel “distress” or “burnout.”

According to Webster’s Dictionary, distress is “suffering of mind or body, severe physical or mental strain.” As a caregiver, you no doubt have increased stress in your life, whether you are caring for a mother with early Parkinson’s disease, who is still able to care for her personal needs, or a spouse who doesn’t recognize you because of advanced Alzheimer’s disease.

Each caregiving situation is unique. What is stressful for you may not be stressful for someone else. In his book, The Survivor Personality, Al Seibert says, “there is no stress until you feel a strain.” Since the feeling of stress is subjective and unique to each individual, it is difficult to define objectively. The stress you feel is not only the result of your caregiving situation, it is also your perception of it. Your stress will increase or decrease depending on how you perceive your circumstances, and your perception will affect how you respond.

Factors That Affect Stress
Your level of stress is influenced by many factors, including:
  • whether your caregiving is voluntary or not;
  • your relationship with the care receiver;
  • your coping abilities; and
  • whether support is available.