Monday, August 3, 2015

Take A Break - Caregiver Stress




I was working as the admission director in a upscale assisted living/ dementia care community when I met the sweetest gentleman.  He approached my office door in almost a sheepish manner.  "Do you have a minute?" he asked.  "Absolutely," I answered, "please sit down."  With stooped shoulders and rumpled shirt he slouched down into the chair and let out a small audible sigh.  He was living alone with his wife of 52 years he explained.  She was having trouble remembering things, and was very confused.  "Sometimes,  she doesn't even know me," he looked down at the carpet and shuffled his feet.   "It's hard because she needs help with "things." I immediately knew what he meant. I could also see that he was exhausted mentally and physically.

All too often this is the scenario.  Caregiver stress is a very real issue. 
The economic value of the nation’s family caregivers' unpaid work is an estimated $470 billion a year — an amount about equal to the annual sales of Wal-Mart, the world’s largest company.
That’s the top finding from the AARP Public Policy Institute’s new report, “Valuing the Invaluable: 2015 Update.”

Understanding the implications and working to relieve some of this stress is critical.  Caregiver stress can creep up on you.  Caregivers often think they are doing fine and they can "manage" until the straw breaks.  If you or someone you love is a primary caregiver here are THREE important things to be aware of:

1.  Everyone needs a BREAK. 
Caring for a loved one should not mean giving up your own life.  Often those we care for can be very demanding without realizing it.  Take time for yourself by physically removing yourself for a break.  It can be a short 30 minute walk, or a weekend or week away but understanding that you need a change will give you a chance to decompress and recharge.

2.  Ask for HELP
Help is closer than you think but it's often hard to anticipate someone's need.  Make a list of things you could use assistance with: respite care, meal preparation, house cleaning, doctor transport - whatever would make things easier for you.  Then when someone says, "How can I help?"  You'll be ready with some suggestions.  Don't be afraid to say, "Yes, that would be great!" and then take advantage of their offer.  It's also OK to ASK for help. Enlist family, church members, and friends to help lighten the load.

3.  Take care of YOU
You may be a "caregiver" but remember if you "get down" then everything might just fall apart anyway.  This means YOU need to:  a. Eat right (don't skip meals or grab fast food) Good nutrition is critical to keeping your energy up.  b. Exercise (take walks or go to the gym - just remember to keep moving)  c. Keep up with your health regimen (doctor appointments, medications, monitoring your own health). Being a caregiver does not mean neglecting your own health  d.  Pamper yourself  ( get a massage, get your hair done, have a manicure, buy a new outfit) it's okay to take time to worry just about YOU.

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Remember my sweet gentleman?

A few months later a pretty woman in her 40's entered my office seeking placement for her mother who had Alzheimer's disease.  She mentioned her  Father and said she thought that he may have been in to visit the community.  I asked his name and sure enough it was the same sweet man.  "How is your Dad?"  I inquired, "he seemed like such a wonderful husband."   Her head dropped, "Well, we lost Daddy about three weeks ago.  I just think he was worn out from caring for Mama." 

Don't let caregiver stress creep up on you.  There is help available - but it starts with you!

For more information on how you can cope with Caregiver Stress go to:

www.aarp.org/home-family/caregiving

   

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