According to the National Center on Caregiving, a 65% majority of older adults with long-term care requirements rely exclusively on friends or family to assist.
Care provided by friends and family enables older persons to age at home rather than moving into an institutional setting. Given the costs associated with long-term care settings, this can save families a lot of money.
But financial savings can still come at a cost, especially for women. The demands on caregivers’ time are substantial. Experts estimate that women provide anywhere from $148-188 billion in informal care to spouses, parents, in-laws, friends and neighbors. This care could look like being a driver, surrogate decision-maker, health care advocate, care manager, hands-on caregiver, and/or social companion. Women are put in a position of having to cope with trying to balance work duties, their own parental responsibilities and caregiving. Therefore, it is widely accepted and acknowledged that female caregivers face burnout and struggle to take care of themselves. If unchecked, this can lead to mental and physical health problems for caregivers.
Everyone knows that self-care is important, but it doesn’t always feel realistic or practical to implement once routines and habits are already established. If you can be proactive and establish self-care habits or boundaries from the beginning, you’ll set yourself up for more success. Whether you are caring for an aging parent now, or anticipate that you will be soon, here are 5 self-care tips:
- Try to have a series of conversions before a crisis occurs
It helps greatly if you can start having logistical end-of-life care conversations with your aging parent before something bad happens. Saying something casually to your loved one like, “I was just wondering…what are your wishes if anything were to ever happen to you? I’m really curious about that.” If it’s too hard to have this conversation in person, consider writing a letter. Any amount of communication now will help you to anticipate needs, plan and ultimately reduce stress later on.
Another key conversation to have before a crisis occurs is with your most immediate support network (best friends, partner, spouse, therapist, etc.) When you’re in a moment of crisis and someone asks you what you need, there’s a good chance you won’t be able to tell them because you’re overwhelmed and not thinking straight. Consider having a chat like, “If my mother starts showing signs of dementia and needs my care, here are the things I might need in those moments.”
- Look for supplemental care
Whether you look for in-home care attendants that can provide you with weekly respite or you visit adult day care centers, seek out support and help. Adult day care services can provide your loved one with social community, health services, meals and recreation, freeing you up with some time to care for yourself. If you or your loved one feels anxious or apprehensive, consider a senior day care service that has activity director software like StoriiCare or a site like seniorsite.org. This type of software app will connect you with your loved one’s care provider so you can receive updates throughout the day on their activities and see photos, videos, messages, schedules, etc. It can bring you both peace of mind and make you feel more connected.
- Schedule time for yourself as if it is an appointment or meeting
One of the best ways to accomplish self-care time is to prioritize it like a meeting or appointment that you need to attend. Pick a regularly recurring time each week and schedule it in your calendar or planner. No matter what, stick to it as best you can. Then you always have it to look forward to and it will become a habit.
- Develop a healthy wind-down routine
There is a lot of stress and exhaustion associated with caregiving, so it is extremely important to give your body adequate rest and time to recuperate. Developing an indulgent, self-care focused nighttime routine can help improve your sleep, energy and outlook. An example of a healthy wind-down routine could look like any combination of the following:
- Shutting off screens an hour before bedtime
- Getting our all your thoughts and feelings into a journal
- Drinking a cup of tea
- Stretching, yoga, or meditation
- Having a warm bath
- A luxurious skincare ritual
- Receiving physical affection from a loved one
- Reading a good book
- Find a support group
The human desire for affirmation and connection is strong. We tend to feel better about ourselves when we can help others enduring challenges we’ve been through. We also tend to feel validated and affirmed when we connect with others who are going through the same thing we are. That is why support groups are so valuable for caregivers. If there isn’t a support group near you, there are plenty of groups online. Knowing you can call or message people who “get it” can immediately put caregivers at ease. Knowing your struggle is a shared one will help you to not feel alone or isolated.
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