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Caregivers Need to Care for Selves


For many years, I have held workshops for caregivers and just recently hosted a webinar on caregiving for U of I Extension staff. Based on the interactions with participants, I get the feeling that these caregivers are not only searching for information, but also support and validation of what they are going through. Many times, caregivers are seeking information on how best to take care of the care receiver, and they often put their own care on the back burner. For this reason, my programs usually focus on advising caregivers to take better care of themselves. In fact, there are entire curricula dedicated to the encouragement and guidance of caregiver self-care.

Maintaining one's energy and vitality as a caregiver is important personally and to the family. The roles and responsibilities a person has as a caregiver can seem overwhelming. Because the demands of caregiving can continue indefinitely, it's important to understand the warning signs of stress and how to cope with the pressures. Surveys show that many caregivers frequently feel frustrated, anxious, and depressed. They often experience physical symptoms such as headaches, stomach disorders, and sleeplessness. Everyone experiences their own warning signs and symptoms of stress and need to be aware of what those are since they can often indicate that the caregiver is reaching burnout.

So what are some ways for caregivers to manage stress and take care of themselves? Caregivers can:

  • Express their feelings to others like a trusted family member, friend, clergy or at a caregiver support group.
  • Rid themselves of the mental attitude that they have to do it all – try to delegate tasks to other family members or to service providers in the community.
  • Take care of their physical health – eating balanced meals and exercising regularly.
  • Continue the social activities that are most meaningful to them – try and keep involved with groups and hobbies.
  • Avoid negative ways of coping with stress i.e. over/under eating, alcohol, and drug misuse.
  • Encourage the care receiver to be as independent as possible.
  • Take personal time – schedule time away from the caregiving duties without feeling guilty and thinking you have to do it all.

Respite care is also an opportunity for the caregiver to get away from their duties and recharge their batteries. This service provides for the temporary supervision of a care receiver where a provider can come to the home or the care receiver can be taken to a location to receive care. Often respite programs can be found in places such as hospitals, nursing homes, home health care agencies, adult day services, and religious organizations. There are many opportunities out there and one could call the Illinois Department on Aging Senior Helpline at 1-800-252-8966 or www.illinois.gov/aging or the U.S. Administration on Aging Eldercare Locator at 1-800-677-1116 or www.eldercare.gov

For more information, U of I Extension has some wonderful brochures on many different aspects of caregiving available online at http://web.extension.illinois.edu/hkmw/eb380/entry_10959/ You can also contact any of our family life educators listed on this blog. 


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