A Focus on Caregivers
Being a caregiver of someone with a chronic, debilitating illness can be like have an extremely stressful job with very little time off. Caregivers usually feel that taking care of a loved one is not only an act of caring, but also a duty. If it’s a spouse they’re you’re caring for, you probably see it as living up to the promise you made in your wedding vows. If it’s a parent, it seems only natural to be there for the person who took care of you so selflessly when you were a child.
Health problems more of a risk
Being a caregiver is stressful, and constant stress can weaken your immune system. Caregivers of people with Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and other debilitating conditions experience increased incidence of
- Heart trouble
- High blood pressure
Don’t try to “keep a stiff upper lip” and soldier on without a break. The simple truth is that you can’t keep going, day after day, without taking care of yourself too. Even though finding time for yourself is difficult, you do need to make sure you get the time to eat well balanced meals, get a little exercise nearly every day and interact with other people.
Reach out to others
It’s common to feel isolated when you’re taking care of a loved one at home, especially a loved one who no longer seems like the same person. Even though it’s hard to get time for yourself, you really do need to carve out some time that helps you focus on your own needs.
A recent newspaper article mentioned that Nancy Reagan reportedly rarely leaves her California home where she lives with her husband, who is in the late stages of Alzheimer’s disease. She was quoted as saying “…when it comes right down to it, you’re in it alone. And there’s nothing that anybody can do for you.”
That quote illustrates the loneliness that can strike just about anybody who’s a caregiver, even someone who has the resources that Nancy Reagan has.
Cast a wide net when you look for outside support. Talk with your own doctor or your loved one’s doctor for advice about support groups for caregivers. Find out whether your city or town has a Department of Aging, and call them for information. Local senior centers are another good place to look for information.
Not long ago, Jeanne Phillips, who writes the Dear Abby advice column (which her mother used to write), went on CNN’s Larry King Live television show to discuss publicly her mother’s struggle with Alzheimer’s disease. She said, “People cannot just come home and give and give and give and give without burning out… You can be as devoted and loving a spouse or a caregiver or child, but you also have to remember that you have to program time for yourself in there, because it will renew you.”
For information about caring for yourself when you have to care for others, visit the following Web sites:
National Family Caregivers Alliance: http://www.nfcacares.org/
Family Caregiver Alliance: http://www.caregiver.org/
American Association of Retired Persons: http://www.aarp.org/indexes/life.html#caregiving
National Institute on Aging (tips for Alzheimer’s caregivers): http://www.alzheimers.org/pubs/careguide.htm
National Family Caregivers Alliance; National Institutes of Health; AARP; New York Times, 29 September 2002