Family Caregivers: Caring for Yourself & Others

Family Caregivers: Caring for Yourself & Others

According to the National Alliance for Caregiving, approximately 66 million Americans (35% of the US adult population) serve as family caregivers for adult or disabled relatives. With the population aging and living longer, more caregiving is being provided by spouses, children, grandchildren, siblings and other family members.

Taking care of loved ones as they age is important and rewarding work, yet it’s no secret that family caregiving can be extremely stressful and demanding. As caregiving responsibilities grow, family caregivers experience significant challenges in their own lives.  Finding the balance between your needs and the needs of your loved one is the key to keeping your personal health and well-being a top priority.

A few tips to help family caregivers find balance include:

  1. Take care of your own health – It’s essential to take care of yourself so you can continue to be there for your loved one. Make sure to see your own medical doctor when needed, eat healthy, get good sleep, and stay active.
  2. Practice self-care – Find time to do activities that you love. Take small breaks throughout the day to unwind, even if it’s 30 minutes.
  3. Give yourself credit – Practice self-compassion and acknowledge everything you are doing for your loved one. You weren’t trained to be a caregiver, so cut yourself some slack if you’re feeling overwhelmed or trying to be too perfect.
  4. Set boundaries – Healthy boundaries are important for you and your loved one. If able, have a discussion around what your role will be now and as their needs progress. Encourage your loved one to stay as independent and as involved in their care as they are able.
  5. Take respite breaks – There are many community programs and services that offer short term (hourly or daily) care to caregivers. Take advantage of these programs.
  6. Ask for help – Caregiver burnout is real and nothing to be ashamed of. Seek support from other family members, friends or support groups with caregivers who are in the same situation as you are. Our professional caregivers at Hallmark Homecare are available to provide personalized care as well.

Need some additional support caring for your loved one?
Hallmark Homecare offers personalized in-home care to help people remain at home. Our caregivers are specifically matched to each client and their unique needs. This offers clients and families peace of mind and provides family caregivers with a much-deserved break, so they can focus on spending quality time together with their loved one instead of on caregiving or household tasks. There’s help available when you need it, and we’re happy to assist!

Preventing Caregiver Burnout

Preventing Caregiver Burnout

If you are feeling worn down as a caregiver for an aging loved one, you are not alone. You may feel isolated, at times, desperately needing the support of others and seeking guidance as to how to make your life a little easier.  One thing is for sure, all across the country many of us are struggling to care for our loved ones. It’s likely that each one of us will be caring for a loved one in the future. And caregiving is not a short-term commitment.

Being a caregiver takes a toll. This is evidenced both emotional and physically. Unfortunately, our own bodies do not stop needing care while we provide care for others. Many of us are also providing for our own families, still maintaining a day job as well as needing to care for ourselves.  Coping as a caregiver means being able to discern not only your loved ones’ needs but knowing the importance of caring for yourself.

There are some basic “caring” support measures that we must offer ourselves. Remember, you are a very important person, and you need and deserve proper care.

  • Exercise Daily: Whatever our caregiving schedule, we can only take care of others if we take care of yourselves. Walk, run, stretch, lift weights, dance, and do whatever you do, but do some physical exercise 30-60 minutes four to six times a week. If you only have ten minutes a day to exercise, this better than no time at all. A walk around the corner is a great way to clear your mind. Exercise truly does relieve stress, increases your energy level and protect your health. Strength training two times a week will help keep your bones strong and your muscles firm. This is important if you are caring for someone else. Every morning, think through your day and try to anticipate little pockets of time you can devote to exercise. Take whatever measures you must to make it happen…do as if your life depends on it!
  • Accept Your Own Limits: As a loving caregiver, we want to be able to say; “I can do it all”, but we need to accept, that we also must care for ourselves.  We must proactively ask for help and support from outside. Taking good care of yourself and your loved one involves recruiting additional help at times.  Even if you feel you do not need extra help now, you will need assistance in the future. Everyone needs a break and time to enjoy their own life. It’s so much better to have peace of mind that the world will go on without you when you need or want time away. Talk to your doctor, a senior care professional, a pastor or others that you trust about your situation. Respite care is an excellent resource for giving you “time off” from caregiving to take care of yourself.   Plan ahead by making a list of people you can recruit to help you. Having options will help you manage the extra demands of your time and give you a sense of control.
  • Relax: Daily relaxation is vital to our own health. Deep breathing, meditation, praying, or doing whatever helps you to reduce stress. If possible, take time at the beginning and the end of the day to practice these techniques and any other available moments you can.
  • Talk: Everyone needs to share their own caregiving challenges and successes. It is always reassuring to know that you are not the only one having certain struggles. Find people you can trust and share your heart with them. Join a support group for caregivers. Just know that you are not alone and hearing another person’s story can be a great comfort. You may help someone else as you share your thoughts and feelings as well.
  • Schedule Time for Yourself: You may not remember the last time you left your responsibilities and just took time for yourself. Caregivers typically feel very guilty taking time away from their loved one. Taking time to do something that is not work-related will actually make you a better caregiver. Read a few pages from a book, window shop, take a nap or go to the beach. It is not just okay, it’s vital for your wellbeing.
  • Get Enough Rest: If you are lacking on your sleep, your body will soon let you know. Without proper sleep you’re putting your own health at risk. Try to get at least eight hours of rest each night. If you are required to be up at night with your loved one, take naps the following day when your loved one is sleeping.
  • Eat a Balanced Diet: If you are preparing meals for your loved one, this should be a good way to manage eating healthy for yourself. Just as you want your loved one to eat well, your nutrition is vital to your health.  Keep veggies and fruit available for snacks, eat whole grains, avoid high fat and carbohydrates, increase your water intake to six to eight glasses a day and avoid concentrated sweets and too much caffeine.
  • Get Organized & Simplify: Being a caregiver, a parent, a grandparent, a worker outside the home, etc. brings many demands of your time. Control those demands by recruiting your own family to help with chores at home.  Stay organized daily with whatever method works for you. Simplify by saying no to activities that may not fit the current demands of your time.

Caring for a loved one is a tough job. At times it’s frustrating, overwhelming and exhausting. It’s also one of the most rewarding jobs you will ever do. But, as a caregiver, you know your loved one is reliant on you and wants you to be healthy and happy. We all perform better physically and mentally when we are taking care of ourselves. So make sure you’re not forgetting to make yourself a priority.

Advice from a Caregiver on Stress Reduction

Advice from a Caregiver on Stress Reduction

Lisa Bailey is a kindergarten teacher and caregiver to children and her husband who is undergoing cancer treatment. She shares her top coping strategies in this article for living a balanced life as a caregiver. You may find some of these strategies helpful in your own journey.

      • Make all choices from a solid base of integrity. I try to make medical and personal choices from the base of my Christian faith, which helps free me from second-guessing myself.
      • Be clear about today’s reality. Don’t imagine things are worse than they are. Enjoy the good parts of today and don’t let worries for tomorrow take over your emotions and thoughts.
      • Talk honestly to family and friends. Honest, frequent communication with close family and friends about caregiving concerns is much easier than trying to play catch-up later.
      • Learn the medical lingo. It will help you as a caregiver and a medical advocate to learn as much as you can about your loved one’s medical situation. The Internet is a helpful resource, but be cautious about which websites can be trusted. Ask questions of the doctors and nurses. Check the accuracy of your information if you are at all troubled or in doubt.
      • Be aware that pain, stress and medications may release the patient from their social “filter” and they may say some difficult things at times. Listen and be compassionate as best you can.
      • Control what you can control. Lots of articles about stress-management advise letting go of control; I have found that being in control of some areas of my life has greatly reduced my stress.
      • Let go of what you cannot control. For me this means leaning on my faith; for others it may be working with meditation or other techniques that will focus and center you.
      • Get help with house work and yard work—paid or unpaid. Help with household chores has helped me prioritize my most important tasks.
      • Prepare meals in advance and freeze them. I do bulk cooking and freeze pre-prepared meals.
      • Plan your work; then work your plan. Keep bills and insurance paperwork organized and pay bills on time. Be proactive about taking care of tasks and errands. Don’t let things pile up.
      • Nest. Everyone needs a comfy place to relax and rest. Make a comfortable nest for your loved one and for yourself by having a comfy chair with afghans, pillows, fresh flowers, candles, books and great music to your nest.
      • Journal for yourself. There are so many ways to re-center yourself, but none works as well for me as journaling. Even if you have never kept a journal, try starting one to help you clarify feelings, manage your stress and plan the work you need to do as caregiver.
      • Find joy in living life, whatever the circumstances. Whether illness or infirmity limit the scope of you and your charge’s activities—remember to bring meaning to your lives through activities you both enjoy: a good meal, movies and shows, music, reading aloud, playing card or board games, and trying new activities that may be creative and enriching.
      • Keep a vision for the future. None of us comes here to stay; we know that. But we also know that we can “grow until we go,” and we should. We make plans for our future.
      • Give. While I have learned through my husband’s illness to receive the gifts of help, encouragement, prayer and love from other people, giving to others in return keeps us feeling emotionally and spiritually full and is always worth the effort.
      • Release yourself from expectations for perfection. As humans, we all experience “feet of clay” when we do not have infinite energy, wisdom or capabilities to manage our lives. This is normal. Get through each day as best you can, and don’t dwell on mistakes.
      • Take good care of yourself. Eat good food, remember to exercise, rest and learn to say no to outside demands. See your doctor and dentist for checkups. Get away from the house regularly—and not just to run errands, but to do an activity you enjoy to renew your spirit.
Relief for Caregivers Through Respite Care

Relief for Caregivers Through Respite Care

What Is Respite Care?

Respite care for the elderly is any service that supports and maintains the primary caregiving relationship by providing temporary care to an aging parent or loved one.

If you’re the primary caregiver for an aging loved one, you may be experiencing some form of stress or burnout. It’s natural for caregivers to become so involved in taking care of someone else that they tend to allow their own needs to get put aside.

This is why respite care is so important for caregivers. As the number of caregivers increases— and there are already an estimated 50 million caregivers in the country today—the number of people suffering from exhaustion, stress, isolation, depression and physical ailments is also on the rise. This is no coincidence. Caregivers need to recognize that they deserve a break from their responsibilities to take care of themselves, too. And taking some time away from caregiving duties will make the person a better caregiver in the long run.

Many caregivers feel guilty at the thought of seeking respite services for their loved ones. A recent survey of caregivers by the National Family Caregivers Association showed that it’s especially difficult for spouse caregivers to acknowledge that their role of caregiver is different and separate from their role as spouse. Caregivers need to acknowledge that caregiving plays a totally separate part in their lives, and that the job of long-term caregiving can be too big for just one person to handle.

Finding Relief in Respite Care

The benefits of respite care are numerous for caregivers. Taking time away from caregiving demands will leave a caregiver refreshed and renewed, allowing them the opportunity to re-energize to be a more effective caregiver. Caregivers deserve time for activities they enjoy, whether it be reading, gardening, taking a walk, taking in a movie or museum, or whatever relaxes and eases the caregiver’s spirit. It’s also important for caregivers to maintain social relationships with friends and other family members to avoid isolation and depression. And caregivers may just need time to take care of personal errands such as seeing their own doctor, or possibly attending a support group with other caregivers.

Ideally caregivers will have regularly scheduled breaks that can be provided by help from friends or family members. However, if that support is not available to the caregiver, there are a variety of respite care options available. Respite care services are offered through community agencies, homecare care companies, direct-hire options like Hallmark Homecare, and residential care facilities. A good place to start in the U.S. is the Eldercare Locator, a free nationwide toll-free service designed to assist older adults and their caregivers to find services in their community. Additional resources are local senior centers, Area Agencies on Aging, and the Family Caregiver Alliance.

It is also ideal for caregivers to create space in their home that is solely for the caregiver, whether that be a reading nook or an extra bedroom. Caregivers are advised to designate time every day, such as while the care receiver is taking a nap or when they first go to bed, that is just for the caregiver.

Before planning respite care, caregivers should talk with their loved one about it, so that he or she understands the benefit to both.

Remember that respite care should not be considered a luxury, but a necessity for the well-being of both the caregivers and their aging loved ones.

Summer Activities for Seniors & Caregivers

Summer Activities for Seniors & Caregivers

Enjoying the warm summer temperatures doesn’t have to be a distant memory for elders and caregivers. Finding an interesting activity that is suitable for a senior’s abilities may take some creativity and planning, but it is well worth switching up the routine and getting out of the house.

The Benefits of Getting Outside

A main advantage of heading outdoors, even for a short period of time, is being able to soak up some sunlight. Sun exposure generates vitamin D, which is necessary for a healthy brain, bones and muscles. Getting out also enables elders to socialize with new people and be stimulated by new experiences and environments.

Ideas for Outdoor Activities

When selecting activities to do with your loved one, focus on hobbies and interests that they used to enjoy. What is something they always wanted to try? Don’t be afraid to ask what they miss doing or what they’d like to revisit. Have a couple of suggestions prepared to choose from and head outside to enjoy the day together.

Catch a sporting event. Attending a grandchild’s soccer game or a professional baseball game can be an action-packed way for your loved one to reconnect with a favorite pastime.

Fish for fun. You can cast a rod from a dock, pier, or other location, even if someone has mobility problems or uses a wheelchair. Check your state’s or province’s tourism websites to see if they provide listings of accessible fishing locations.

Be a tourist. If you live in a city, take an open-air bus or trolley tour to see the local sights. Another option could be a boat tour, depending on what type of equipment an elder needs to take with them. A Sunday drive around town can also allow a senior to check out happenings in the community that interest them. This could be a neighborhood rummage sale, farmers market, community event or even just blooming flowers and trees.

Take a dip. If a senior is willing and able, spending some time in a pool is an excellent way for them to incorporate some physical activity into their routine that seems more like relaxing than a workout.

Stroll around. If a walk is possible, start slow and work up to longer outings. Either keep the first few walks short or bring along a walker or wheelchair in case your loved one gets tired and needs to rest along the way or requires help getting back.

Be an animal lover. This could be as simple as encouraging a loved one to sit outside and enjoy the sights and sounds or could mean an outing to the zoo or local dog park. There are plenty of options for seniors who enjoy animals to get outside and either interact with or observe nature.

Picnic outdoors. Picnics are another flexible activity that you can plan at a park, in your own backyard, or on the surrounding grounds of a long-term care facility. At the park, seniors can watch children run around and enjoy the buzz of outdoor activity. Make sure to locate an area with comfortable seating and plenty of shade in advance or remember to bring your own.

Go out for a treat. Most seniors have a favorite place to eat that picks their spirits right up. Instead of limiting this indulgence to special occasions or the post-doctor’s appointment routine, make an outing out of it “just because.” This could consist of a coffee and pastry from a favorite breakfast spot, or a lunch special from the diner around the corner. If the weather is nice, enjoy your goodies at a patio table.

Older bodies don’t adjust to temperature changes or perceive thirst as well as younger ones. With each of these activities, be sure to watch your loved one for signs of fatigue, thirst, sunburn, and overheating that could signal it’s time to leave, perhaps with a promise to return at another time.

Help for the Helpers – Caregiver Support

Help for the Helpers – Caregiver Support

If you are feeling worn down for caring for a loved one, you are not alone. You may feel isolated and desperately in need of support of others.  Or, you may be looking for some guidance on how to make your life just a little easier while you are caring for your loved one.  One thing is for sure, all across the country many of us are struggling to care for loved ones. According to the American Society of Aging, one out of every four households provides caregiving to a loved one over the age of 50.

Fact: being a caregiver of a loved one takes a toll. This toll is evidenced both emotionally and physically. Unfortunately, our own bodies do not stop needing care while we are caring for others. Many of us are struggling to not only provide care to our loved one, but also provide for our own families, work outside of the home and try to care for ourselves.  Coping as a caregiver means being able to discern not only your loved ones needs but knowing the importance of caring for yourself and even more important, taking an active role in providing that care.

There are some basic caring support measures that we must offer ourselves if we want to be caring caregivers to others, as well as ourselves. Remember, you are a very important person, and you need and deserve proper care of yourself, especially if you are also caring and helping someone else!

Exercise Daily: Whatever your caregiving schedule, you can only take care of others if you take care of yourselves. Walk, run, stretch, lift weights, dance, and do whatever you do, but do some physical exercise 30-60 minutes four to six times a week. If you only have ten minutes a day to exercise, that is better than no time at all. Even a walk around the corner is a great way to clear your mind. Exercise truly does relieve stress, increases your energy level and protects your health. Strength training two times a week will help keep your bones strong and your muscles firm. This is really important if you are caring for someone else. Every morning, think through your day and try to anticipate little pocket of time your can devote to exercise. Take whatever measures you must to make it happen…do as if your life depends on it!

Accept your own limits: As a loving caregiver, we want to be able to say; “I can do it all”. But the truth is, as much as we need to care for our loved one, we also must care for ourselves.  We must proactively ask for help and support from outside. Just remember, taking good care of yourself and your loved one, involves recruiting additional help.  Don’t wait, even if you may feel you do not need extra help now, chances are, you will need some assistance in the future. It is so much better and a great peace of mind, to have help available and “ready to go”, in advance of needing the help.  Talk to your doctor, senior care professionals, your pastor and others that you trust, about your needs. Respite care, assistance that allows someone else to come in and assist your loved one, is an excellent resource for giving you “time off” from care giving to take care of yourself.   Plan ahead by making a list of people you can recruit to help you. Having help will help you manage the extra demands of your time and give you a sense of control.

Relax: Daily relaxation is vital to our own health. Deep breathing, meditation, praying reduce caring stress. If possible, take time at the beginning and the end of the day to practice these techniques and any other available moments.

Talk: Everyone needs to share their own care giving challenges and successes. It is always reassuring to know that you are not the only one having certain struggles.  Find people you can trust and share your heart with them. Join a support group for caregivers. Just know you are not alone and hearing another person’s story can be a great comfort. You may help someone else as you share your thoughts and feelings.

Schedule time for yourself: You may not remember the last time you left your responsibilities and just took time for yourself. Caregivers typically feel very guilty taking time away from their loved one; especially if it is not for other responsibilities. Taking time to just do something that is not work related in any way, will actually make you a better caregiver. Read a few pages from that book, window shop, take that nap or maybe just going to the beach. It is not just “O.K.”, it is vital to your well being.

Get Enough Rest: If you are lacking on your sleep, your body will soon let you know. Without proper sleep you are putting your own health at risk. Try to get at least eight hours of rest at night. If you are required to be up at night with your loved one, take naps the following day when you loved one is sleeping.

Eat a Balanced Diet: If you are preparing meals for your loved one, this should be a good way to manage eating healthy for yourself. Just as you want your loved one to eat well, your nutrition is vital to your health.  Keep veggies and fruit available for snacks, eat whole grains, avoid high fat and carbohydrates, increase your water intake to six to eight glasses a day and avoid concentrated sweets and too much caffeine.

Get Organized and Simplify: Being a caregiver, a parent, a grandparent, a worker outside the home brings many demands of your time. Control those demands by recruiting your own family to help with chores at home.  Stay organized daily with whatever method works for you. Simplify by saying no to activities that, even though they are worthwhile, may not fit the current demands of your time.

Remember, caring for a loved one is one of the toughest jobs you will ever do. At times it is frustrating, terrifying, overwhelming and exhausting. It also is one of the most rewarding jobs you will ever do. Just as you care enough to be your loved one’s helper and caregiver, caring for yourself through this season of your life will allow you to give the greatest gift of all… your love and care to another.