As you embrace the role of caregiver, remember that being a caregiver is a job, and you have earned the right to respite. Reward yourself with breaks. Look for these and other ways to care for yourself. Incorporate daily activities that give you pleasure: listen to music, work in the garden or call a friend.
Interacting with others is important. Arrange with family and friends to help you so that you can have some time away from the home. If it is difficult to leave, invite friends and family over to visit with you.
Keep a journal of your thoughts and feelings. This helps provide perspective on your situation and gives you an important release for your emotions.
Arrange for someone to call you on the telephone each day to be sure that everything is all right. This person can help by contacting other family members with status updates or to let them know if you need anything.
Eat balanced meals, find time to exercise and do your best to sleep at least seven hours a night.
Laughter really is great medicine. Buy a light-hearted book or rent a comedy. Whenever you can, try to find some humor in everyday situations.
Recognizing caregiver burnout
In your efforts to provide care and support for your loved one, please be mindful of the signs of caregiver burnout. If you notice these warning signs of burnout, make an effort to enlist more support and find relief.
• You seem to catch every cold or flu that is going around.
• You are exhausted constantly, even after sleep or a break.
• You neglect your own needs because you are too busy or you do not care anymore.
• You have trouble relaxing, even when help is available.
• You become impatient and irritable with the person for whom you are caring.
• You feel overwhelmed, helpless, and hopeless.
• Your eating and sleeping patterns change.
• Your productivity at work decreases.
• You withdraw from social contacts.
• You increase your use of alcohol, stimulants or medications for sleeplessness, anxiety or depression.
• You have nervous habits such as chain smoking.
• Your thinking becomes scattered.
To prevent and manage caregiver burnout, try the following strategies.
First, schedule regular breaks and take advantage of offers of assistance. When you need help, enlist friends and family who live near you to run errands, bring a hot meal or watch your loved one so that you can clear your head and get a change of scenery.
Second, seek out community services such as adult day care centers, home health aides, home-delivered meals, respite care, transportation services and skilled nursing. The cost of these services varies. Check to see if discounts are available, or if these services are covered under your insurance.
Third, see that you receive the emotional support that you need. This will help ensure you can maintain the ability to offer care and support to your loved one. Share your experiences and feelings with at least one trusted friend or family member. Also, you can make an appointment with a counselor or therapist. If you are spiritual, draw strength from your faith by meeting with a religious counselor or seek out additional support from members of your spiritual community.
Finally, you can share common experiences and gain validation in a caregiver support group. If you are confined to the house, many support services are available via the Internet.
For more information on being a caregiver, attend my Senior Bridges Stress Management Series seminar on Caring for the Caregiver, from noon to 1 p.m. Thursday. Lunch will be served. The seminar will be held on the third floor of Northern Nevada Medical Center in the Hospital Board Room, at 2375 E. Prater Way in Sparks. Registration is required. Call 356-NNMC (6662) to register.
Dr. Leah L. Stecklineis the director of Behavioral Health at Northern Nevada Medical Center.