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For Care Partners: Tips To Help Make Time for Self-Care

How many people do you care for? Just managing your family can be a full-time job. If you work and/or are a caregiver to someone who is aging or has medical problems, you’ve probably experienced difficulty keeping to a schedule.

There are stresses and strains on the life of a caregiver with challenges in managing time, accomplishing chores, responsibilities at work, and for family. The first things to go are generally what you do for yourself. A little less sleep, eating on the run, people adapt in their own way.

Caregivers need to remember they cannot change the outcome of a persistent illness or injury. The care they provide improves the life of the recipient.1 Making adjustments required to the changing schedules of work, family and social life in order to accommodate the care needs of another can be challenging. Be mindful of putting your own needs at the bottom of the list. Be aware when it happens.

Forgetting yourself

It is important to recognize that when taking care of others you need to take care of yourself first. That can be a challenge. When focused on caring for others, it is easy to forget about taking care of your needs. You may feel stressed as though you are always running out of time.

Family caregiving is generally a voluntary role and takes shape in part based on the relationship with the recipient of the care. The situation can be fraught with emotional and physical demands. As a caregiver it is important to develop strong communication skills, good coping mechanisms that can help manage the numerous tasks as well as the associated intertwined emotions.

Today’s caregivers

Most of today’s caregivers are part of the sandwich generation; people who are balancing their careers, raising children and caring for their parents or other aging relatives. Yet young caregivers make up more than 10% of those providing assistance. Young caregivers can find themselves getting a delayed start in life, putting off school, careers or their own families in order to help a parent or grandparent. This situation can create enormous stress, even if it is not recognized at first.2

Caring for someone with PD

As the caregiver for someone with Parkinson’s disease (PD), the more you know about the condition the easier it will be to create a plan for care.3 Each person with PD will have his or her own unique experience, and no course is predictable. These unknowns can contribute to financial, health, and emotional challenges for the caregiver.

Caregiving can provide both satisfaction and stress. When creating a care plan it makes sense to the division of care by recognizing your natural strengths as you evaluate what tasks you will do, and what you may delegate to others. It is not just OK to ask for help; it is an important part of taking care of yourself.4

The caregiving progression

It is an extra challenge to provide emotional as well as physical support for someone you care for that has a chronic, progressive disease like Parkinson’s. The changing needs of a person being cared for can mean increasing demands on the caregiver.4 In the early stages you may offer emotional support to someone coping with the diagnosis or some basic household assistance. Later on, care needs may progress to include help bathing, dressing and eating, as well as help around the house, transportation to outside activities or medical appointments and in the later stages, help with mobility and cognitive problems.4 Research has identified a correlation between the decline in physical well-being of the person with PD and a decline in the caregiver’s health.1

Personal barriers to self-care

Caregivers report issues managing their own health and wellness while carrying out their caregiving duties. It is easy to create excuses, barriers that impede your ability to take good care of yourself. People in the caregiver role are at risk for both physical and mental health problems. They complain of:1

  • Lack of sleep
  • Eating on the run
  • Lack of exercise
  • Ignoring their own medical needs
  • Excessive drinking, smoking, and drug use
  • Symptoms of depression and anxiety

Redefine your responsibilities and your resources. Identify help that might be available nearby. Friends, relatives, and community resources can help with food, transportation, daycare and support groups.3

Steps to managing stress

Some stress relief techniques can be practiced while you are doing other chores. Try listening to music, singing, or just moving around more; practice deep breathing and other relaxation techniques. Make time during the day to get out and take a walk or get some exercise, see or speak to friends and eat right.4,5

Caregivers need to recognize the symptoms when they are not taking the best care of themselves. Are you tired all the time? Getting enough sleep? Have you been gaining weight? Skipped your regular exercise? These are all signs of issues to address. Good awareness, effective communications, as well as time for relaxation and recreation can make caregiving a more positive experience.1

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