Elder Care: Balancing a Loved One's Needs With Your Own

When you’re a caregiver, finding time to take care of your own health can be challenging — but doing so will help both you and your loved one.

Do you provide assistance for an older person who needs care? People of all ages can be caregivers, but it is very common for older people to become caregivers to their spouses or other loved ones, and – too often – they begin to neglect their own health at an age when they should really be paying more attention to it.
Caregiving is both mentally and physically stressful, and caregivers are considered to be at increased risk for physical health problems and depression. If you are a caregiver in your senior years, it is even more important that you take care of your own health.
The Health Effects of Caregiving
Whether caring for an ailing spouse or another loved one, many caregivers become so concerned with their care-providing role that they neglect their own health, putting themselves at increased risk of:

  • Poor physical health: 16 percent of caregivers say that their health declined after they become caregivers.
  • Psychological stress: Approximately half of all people who provide Alzheimer’s care, a common type of elder care, report experiencing distress. The effects of psychological stress can be widespread and may include depression, burnout, alcohol and drug use, and other problems.
  • Self-neglect: Caregivers are more likely than non-caregivers to eat poorly, be sleep deprived, not exercise, not rest when ill, and postpone medical appointments.
  • Death: Caregivers are at higher risk of dying than the general population.

Caring for Yourself While Providing Care
When you’re involved in the stress and chaos of providing elder care, or any type of caregiving, it can be difficult to take a step back and focus on yourself. Keep in mind: The loved one you are caring for will be the first to benefit when you make your own health a priority.
Follow these suggestions for taking care of yourself while providing elder care:

  • Participate in stress-reducing activities. Find things that you like to do to relieve the stress of caregiving. Take a yoga class, garden, meditate, or spend time with a friend. Do these activities regularly and you’ll have a better sense of control over your situation.
  • Get your own medical care. You may be spending a lot of time at the doctor with your loved one, but don’t use that as an excuse to skip your own medical visits. Make sure that you are getting regular check-ups and any testing vital for your own good health.
  • Exercise regularly. Exercising will help reduce stress and keep you in good physical shape. Book regular appointments for yourself to take a brisk walk, attend an exercise class, or do some other type of physical activity that you enjoy.
  • Take breaks. It is important that you get some time away from caregiving, though this can be especially difficult if you are providing elder care for someone who needs around-the-clock attention. Don’t be shy: Ask another family member to step in and help. A friend or neighbor might be willing to give you a break. Also inquire about respite care resources in your community; options include day visits or short stays at a senior care facility.
  • Practice positive self-talk. Many caregivers impose a huge burden on themselves, so it is important for your psychological health to replace negative thoughts with positive thinking. For example, instead of telling yourself, “I never do anything right,” try focusing on the positive by thinking, “My aging parents enjoy spending time with me.” If possible, talk about this with your loved one, who may be able to give you peace of mind by letting you know exactly what you are doing right.

As you begin to focus on your own health, you will feel more vital and energized, which will improve the quality of care you give to your loved ones.