Self-care for the eldercaregiver

The vast majority of health care professionals are amazingly dedicated to helping others maintain or regain a healthy lifestyle.

Regardless of whether it’s a nurse or a physician or a personal support worker or any other front line care professional, there is a consistent commitment to provide care to those they treat or help in some way. And a great many of them also shoulder caregiving responsibilities for aging parents.

That double-barreled challenge of professional caregiving by day and eldercare giving by night to loved ones inevitably extracts a physical and emotional toll. It is a toll that, if unrecognized and unaddressed for a period of time, can lead to many different kinds of stress-related illnesses, and so the caregiver needs the care.

Watch for the signs

And the signs of resulting personal issues more often than not are even more submerged, avoided and denied for a host of well-intentioned reasons.

That’s why it’s important to look for those signs. Here are just four of the many questions to ask yourself as a starting point to an informal and totally qualitative self-assessment of your state of being:

  1. Are you thinking about and/or worrying more about any aspect of a parent’s state of health?
  2. Are you feeling more frustrated by what you perceive to be your parent’s sense of disregard for his/her wellbeing and your efforts to help?
  3. Are you more short-tempered overall, but especially with that parent and family members?
  4. Are you finding yourself less rested in general?

If you honestly answered ‘yes’ to at least two of these questions, you may want to take a closer look at how your parent really is and how you’re dealing with his or her needs… and your own. And you may want to do that sooner or later.

If you honestly answered ‘yes’ to at least three of these questions, you should  take a closer look at how your parent really is and how you are dealing with it for her/him and, as importantly, for yourself.

Helping yourself

The fact is that if you’re getting worn down by family eldercare responsibilities, at some point you’ll become worn out. It’s at that point the quality of your work will suffer, your ability to help those loved ones will be compromised, and you’ll be endangering you own wellbeing. I know this because I’ve lived it: been there, done it, got the tee shirt, and paid the personal price physically and emotionally.

So let me share four strategies I learned the hard way; strategies for coping and self- preservation through the trials and tribulations of the rocky road of caring for aging and ever more needy parents.

  1. Don’t try to do it all. You can be a loving, caring daughter or son, but you can never be all they expect, think they need, or you feel you should give. Define what you can do well consistently and what you can’t, and then get the right kinds of support for those you can’t.
  2. Don’t second guess yourself. If you’ve considered the positives and negatives of any required action or decision and determined what you believe is the best right action, take it and live with it. Otherwise, you’ll be second guessing yourself to the point of distraction… and fall victim to the stifling impact of paralysis by analysis.
  3. Do get regular ‘me’ time. Having some personal time just for yourself is vital. Take a walk, read a book, listen to music, ride a bike, do a jigsaw puzzle, whatever: just take some quiet time, turn your mind off. It’s therapeutic.
  4. Do build a game plan. As events unfold, you’ll have a good idea of what’s to come and when. In other words, if you take a hard look at the horizon of your personal elder-caring frontier, you can and should create a plan– a course of action– for how you’ll deal with the inevitable issues and challenges that will come to pass. A plan helps guide you; it often will make you discover hurdles and options you otherwise might miss.

Moving ahead

One of the very significant challenges of caring for aging parents or other loved ones is that we too often forget about or ignore ourselves: what we need, how to be prepared, fortified, recharged, and personally sustainable.

We can do that only at our peril. The implications and consequences are real and harmful. The Scout’s Motto says it all: Be Prepared

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