If you’re caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s, cancer or any other life-changing health condition, this past year has likely been full of ups and downs you could never have imagined. As we enter a new year and a new beginning, the next 12 months don’t promise to be any easier on your family.
While your loved one and their health are always your first priority, make 2020 the year you no longer ignore your own mental and physical care. By making the following resolutions this January and sticking to them week after week, you can help ease the stress that weighs so heavily on many caregivers’ shoulders.
#1 – I will put myself first when I can.
Between doctors’ appointments, therapy sessions and addressing your loved ones’ immediate needs, there are rarely enough minutes in the day to read a magazine, let alone go out to dinner with friends. To ensure you get the break you need, resort to respite care as often as you can, whether that means asking a family member to help, turning to adult daycare or hiring an in-home caregiver for a couple of hours a week. Dedicate those few precious hours to what makes you happy—for instance, hit the gym, catch a movie or get a much-needed massage.
Just as critical, find the time to relax at home. When your loved one is resting, read a book or take a walk on your treadmill. Before they wake up in the morning, take 10 minutes to meditate or enjoy a cup of coffee and the newspaper. There is always time available in the day if you think creatively.
#2 – I will build a support network.
This is no time to hole yourself up at home—studies show that up to 70 percent of family caregivers experience depression due in part to isolation and loneliness. Talk to friends often, even if it’s a quick phone call or text, or invite them over for lunch if you can’t leave your loved one alone. If you feel your friends or family members can’t sympathize with your struggles, turn to a support group either in person or online. The Family Caregiver Alliance, for instance, offers a web-based community any caregiver can join. Or, check out the VA St. Louis Caregivers Support Program page, which lists a variety of local support groups based on your loved one’s condition, such as the St. Louis chapters of the Alzheimer’s Association or the National Alliance on Mental Illness.
#3 – I will take better care of myself—and that includes my mental health.
You can’t take care of your loved one if you’re struggling with your own preventable health issues. This year, be sure to eat three healthy meals a day, get 30-minutes of exercise each day (even if they’re in 10-minute spurts when you can fit them in), shoot for seven hours of sleep a night, and avoid relying on dangerous coping mechanisms, such as alcohol or sleeping pills. If you feel life as a caregiver is crushing you mentally, turn to a therapist or psychiatrist who specializes in addressing the difficulties family members face. Online, at-home therapy through apps like Talkspace or BetterHelp is available if you can’t get to a counselor’s office.
#4 – I will work with my family to develop a fallback plan.
One of the biggest concerns that keeps caregivers up at night is, “What will happen to my loved one if something happens to me?” This year is the year to put your worries to rest by developing a plan of action if the unexpected occurs.
To keep all family members in sync about your loved one’s daily medical needs and health changes, download an app like CareZone, which anyone can access any time of day. It’s also important to research long-term care options with your family (visit the Missouri Department of Health and Human Services website for resources to assist you in your search), ensure all of your loved one’s documents, including their living will and health insurance information, are in order, and meet with a financial planner to discuss your options for covering extended care.
#5 – I will find joy in the everyday.
When your mom forgets your name or dementia causes your dad to blow up in anger at the smallest mistakes, it can be devastating. However, there are those moments when a beloved song brings back a sweet memory. Or a random joke turns your tears of frustration into ones of laughter. Focus on those little milestones and surprises that bring joy to your family. And just as important, remind yourself each and every day how great you are in your caregiver role!
If you follow all of these resolutions and still feel overwhelmed in the day-to-day, turn to the in-home caregivers at AccuCare. We are available for a few hours once a week or 24 hours each and every day, depending on your loved one’s needs. For a no-obligation consultation, contact us today at 314-692-0020.