McKinney Online - Care for the Caregiver

“Secure your own oxygen mask before assisting others.” If you’ve ever traveled on a commercial airline, you’ve heard this phrase from the flight attendants as you browsed the in-flight magazine. It’s the sort of thing we don’t give much thought to until we’re actually faced with the choice of putting on our own mask versus helping the two-year-old in the seat next to us. We understand the logic behind the directive, but we don’t fully appreciate the emotion that such a situation can generate.

The same is true for those who find themselves in the position of caregiver to a chronically ill parent or loved one. When we see someone we love struggling, our first instinct isn’t always to take care of ourselves, is it? According to a study conducted by the Evercare/National Alliance for Caregiving, caregivers report heightened anxiety, sleeplessness, increased financial worries, depression and health problems. These caregivers have forgotten the airline’s sage advice to take care of yourself so that you are fully able to take care of those who need you.

ACCEPT HELP

One the most difficult things for people in a caregiving situation is learning how to accept help. That’s because offers often come in the form of statements such as “If there is anything I can do, please let me know,” and caregivers aren’t prepared to respond to an ambiguous offer like this. To avoid this, be prepared, and create a list of ways people can help you.

  • Shopping for groceries
  • Making trips to the pharmacy
  • Sitting with the patient so you can take care of personal business
  • Preparing a meal
  • Helping with laundry

Now when someone asks how they can help, you will be able to share your needs, and they can contribute in the way they feel most comfortable.

STAY HEALTHY

When you are caring for someone else your own health often takes the back seat. But finding a way to take better care of your own health will allow you to be strong and focused for your loved one.

  • Take time every day to exercise. Whether it is a walk through the neighborhood or a vigorous tennis match, do what you can to maintain your physical health.
  • Eat right. Grocery shopping is difficult to coordinate when there are many different medical appointments filling your day. It is easy to let nutrition slide in favor of convenience. But poor nutrition is a surefire way to put yourself on the track to health trouble.
 
  • Be sure to get plenty of sleep – it’s always the first thing to go, but research continues to show that inadequate sleep is responsible for a long list of health issues from weight gain to depression to heart disease.

STAY CONNECTED

With all of your responsibilities as a caregiver, you can soon find yourself in a situation where you are isolated and lonely. There are two types of connections that are important to maintain.

When you are caring for someone else your own health often takes the back seat. But finding a way to take better care of your own health will allow you to be strong and focused for your loved one.

When you are caring for someone else your own health often takes the back seat. But finding a way to take better care of your own health will allow you to be strong and focused for your loved one.

 

Connect with other caregivers. Not everyone understands what the day-to-day life of a caregiver demands. Knowing that there are others out there with the same stresses and the same worries can be a relief. In addition, networking with other caregivers can help you find resources. There will always be someone in your group who has been down the road you are on and can share their wisdom. Likewise, there will be someone that you can help point in the right direction. (See local and online resources on next page.)

Second, keep the connections that make you who you are. Whether it’s through your church, community organization or other outlet that you enjoy, it is important to have people that you can talk to about anything other than caregiving struggles. If books or politics are your passion, then stay connected to the people who share those interests. If you have a beloved activity that you have always participated in, like singing in the church choir or golfing, sticking with those activities will keep you refreshed and at the top of your mental game. Don’t let these important pieces of your identity slip away.

BE REALISTIC ABOUT WHAT YOU CAN DO

Sometimes the responsibilities of caregiving can become too much to shoulder on your own. Immobility, chronic illnesses, multiple medications and memory issues can quickly add up to more than one person can handle. The reality is that there are often needs that can be better met at facilities that have resources and trained staff to meet them.

There is no shame in making this choice, as difficult as it may be, and in McKinney there are many wonderful resources to choose from. You should be able to choose a facility close to your home, with highly trained staff, plentiful social activities, and a thorough understanding of all issues your loved one is facing. In addition, these facilities have staff who will help you navigate funding long-term care. Don’t write off something as too expensive until you have examined all the possibilities.

KEEP A SENSE OF HUMOR

In the midst of life as a caregiver, it is easy to forget to laugh. Watching someone you love decline can be one of life’s most emotionally difficult situations. Combining that with the stress of trying to care for them and managing your other responsibilities can leave you in more of a crying mood than a laughing one.

 

That’s the situation that Carol Fant found herself in when her own mother began to decline because of Alzheimer’s disease. She mourned the loss of who her mother had been and feared what was to come. Carol found herself in a dark place until a friend shared wise words with her. It changed her perspective. Carol says of that advice, “I’ve continued to give myself permission to laugh – out loud. Because when I laugh, I don’t feel panicked or afraid. My despair slips away. I feel better. Lighter. Hopeful.”

Carol decided she wanted to share this attitude with others in her situation and started a website, OneBraveCowgirl.com, naming herself Chief Reality Officer. The purpose of her website is to encourage those who are caregivers to laugh, to cope and to seek and give help. That sounds pretty good.

William James, “We don’t laugh because we’re happy – we’re happy because we laugh.”

RESOURCES

Books

The Emotional Survival Guide for Caregivers: Looking After Yourself and Your Family While Helping an Aging Parent, by Barry J. Jacobs

The 36-Hour Day, 5th edition: A Family Guide to Caring for People Who Have Alzheimer Disease, Related Dementias and Memory Loss, by Peter V. Rabins and Nancy L. Mace

A Caregiver’s Survival Guide: How to Stay Healthy When Your Loved One is Sick, by Kay Marshall Strom

Websites

Caregiver Stress: caregiverstress.com

Caregiver: caregiver.com

One Brave Cowgirl: onebravecowgirl.com

Alzheimer’s Association: alz.org

Local Resources

North Central Texas Council on Aging: nctcog.org/cs/aging/caregiver_info.asp

The Collin County Committee on Aging: cccoaweb.org

City of McKinney Resource Page: mckinneytexas.org/index.aspx?NID=624

Local Long-Term Care Facilities

For a list of long-term care facilites visit the Chamber Business Directory at McKinneyChamber.com.

 

About the author: Amy Rogers, M.D., is a freelance writer in McKinney. You can see what she’s up to at copyindisguise.com.