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Senior Care Corner: Caregivers need to care for themselves too

by Elisa Ingoldby

Having personally experienced being a caregiver for family, I know quite well what burnout felt like. I remember taking a break and walking around the block to get a breath of fresh air to clear my head, feeling guilty about my thoughts of just running away from it all. What had I got myself into? When I returned home, I wrote my siblings a letter, saying I was done doing the caretaking alone and would quit if they didn’t help care for our parents. We, of course, worked things out.

It was 1996 and I had come back to Walsenburg to “help my parents.” What that really meant was, I don’t like the single life anymore and I wanted to be close to home to regain myself and life after a personal loss. I was living in Boulder at the time, and when I called home to ask my aging parents if I could come home to take care of them, my dad simply replied, “we don’t need any help.”

Despite my father’s words, I’m glad he accepted my offer because two months later my mother fell down the stairs and broke her hip. Instant nursing was needed, with a hospital bed moved into the family room, medical equipment, and all the new things my father didn’t have to deal with. He then realized he was happy to have me home!

Never in my wildest dreams would I have known my caretaking days would last almost eight years, the last five being full time. There were those burnout years, so I simply want to pass on tips to caretakers who care for family or maybe others.

Firstly, know your abilities and what is expected of you. If expectations are different and there are no set guidelines for what needs you are meeting, frustration and stress are sure to follow.

Be sure to balance time with your personal family and social life. Continue to enjoy hobbies and time alone. Self-care is essential because if you aren’t healthy, then you will obviously be unable to care for others. We caregiver types tend to believe we are martyrs and think we can do it all. It all becomes so overwhelming that burnout is inevitable if you don’t take time for yourself. I understand time is limited, but you MUST make the time for yourself.

Most importantly, if stress levels are getting high to the point that suicidal or violent thoughts towards those you are caring for is occurring, then professional help is needed. Caregivers who have no respite and are doing this job fulltime 24/7 are those most likely to feel this way. Perhaps eating and sleeping habits are disturbed, illness ensues, and the immune system will eventually breakdown.

When caregiving gets to be too much it will get to this point and it’s time to re-evaluate the situation. Caregiving should be a joy since helping others fuels our soul. That’s what families do. We love, support, eat with, pray with, and are there for one another.

For more information, search agingcare.com for more caregiver brochures and support guides

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