Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Caregivers : Give Yourself a Break

“To the family—that dear octopus from whose tentacles we never quite escape, nor, in our inmost hearts, ever quite wish to.”
-       Dodie Smith, Dear Octopus

Caretaking can be an emotionally powerful experience. The well being and comfort of someone you love is in your hands and you want to do the best job possible. You are helping that person stay out of a nursing home, to recover from a debilitating disease, or to go through the process of dying itself. Your role is invaluable and you may never fully understand the appreciation and gratitude felt by the person you’re looking after.
            However, you also need to take care of yourself. A recent study by Gallup shows that 16% of the American workforce is also a caretaker for someone. Of that group, the vast majority, 65%, are between the ages of forty-five and sixty-four with the next largest group, 22%, between the ages of thirty and forty-four. (source)
            What the study revealed was that whichever age group you belong to if you’re a caretaker chances are your health is suffering too. High blood pressure and reoccurring physical pain are two of the main culprits. Caregivers reported that not only did they have new health issues, but they also suffered from lower energy and productivity. The numbers showed this prevented them from participating in their normal day-to-day activities and they often didn’t feel well rested. Does any of that sound familiar?  
            And yet caretaking doesn’t only take a physical toll, but emotional and mental ones as well. You’re not just helping someone get dressed and bathed, standing up from a chair or sofa, or any of their myriad other day-to-day activities. You’re also taking on the responsibility of helping someone who’s experiencing the effects of old age to the extent they can’t fully look after themselves.
            You are in charge of medicines and must be alert for changes in symptoms or needs. You’re involved in their moods, which may include disillusionment and depression, and for making sure they’re socially active. As if life isn’t hard enough as it is, you’re now taking on someone else’s problems; but it’s someone you love and feel responsible for.
According to the Minnesota Department of Human Services, taking a break from your caretaker role is “the most important thing a caregiver can do to sustain the ability and desire to care for an individual.”
What prevents many of us from giving ourselves the time and care we need is a feeling of responsibility for the loved one. We believe we’re somehow failing if we aren’t there. We tell ourselves it’s such an important role, how can we let this person down? We might feel we’re the only one who understands the person well enough to give the proper care. Some other person might go through the motions but miss the special details and compassion that only we know how to give.
The key here is to get out of your own way. You aren’t the only person that can give appropriate care and if you don’t look after yourself you won’t be able to do any caretaking at all. You don’t want to get worn down, either physically or emotionally and lose your motivation or ability to look after the person you love.
Your own life and well being are crucial to your job as a caretaker. Pay attention to yourself. Give yourself time to live your own life. When friends call to get together and you’re constantly saying no, eventually they stop calling. They’ll assume you’re busy and stop bothering you. Your world can diminish and with that bring in a host of ramifications. Some caretakers become angry or resentful. All this can be prevented. The first step is to let other people in.   

“The miracle is this—the more we share, the more we have.”
-       Leonard Nimoy

From the upcoming book, A Safe Retirement : The 4 Keys to a Safe Retirement

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