Caregivers Must Not Forget Their Own Needs

            Published June 8, 2012, Pawtucket Times

           It seems that every where I turn these days, friends, and business colleagues, are being thrust into care giving roles for older family members or spouses.  In today’s hectic world, aging baby boomers and seniors who are now taking on this late-life role can find this new task very demanding and stressful.

            According to the National Alliance for Caregiving and AARP, most aging baby boomers will become informal caregivers at some time during their lives. During any given year, there are more than 65 million Americans (29% of the nation’s population) who provide unpaid care for a chronically ill, disabled, or older family member or relative during any given year.  The caregiver spends an average of 20 hours per week providing care for their loved ones.

            Statistics paint a very detailed picture of the typical family caregiver.  She is a 49-year old, married female who is employed and cares for her 69-year old widowed mother who does not live with her.  Over 66 percent of the nation’s caregivers are women.  More than 37 percent have children or grandchildren 18-years or younger living with them.

The Importance of Taking Care of Yourself

            Connie Goldman, award winning radio producer and reporter whose books have given her readers insights, inspiration, and motivation for personal growth in their mid-life and beyond, sees continuing need for support and services for middle-aged caregivers. 

            Goldman, who authored The Gifts of Caregiving – Stories of Hardship, Hope and Healing, believes the secret of being a successful caregiver is to first take good care of yourself.  Although her book was first published over a decade ago the personal stories that family caregiver have shared continue to offer comfort, insights, and inspiration. Many will benefit from reading the compilation of 30 stories of caregivers who tell their  personal stories of taking care of an ill, disabled or aging loved one.  Goldman notes all of these remarkable people cope with adversity in ways that leave us wondering: “Could I measure up to the challenge?” Most importantly, each of their stories reveals how the hardships of caregiving can be turned into a journey of hope and self-discovery,” she says.

           In her timeless book, Goldman’s interviews include: Dana Reeve (wife of the late actor Christopher Reeve), former First Lady Rosalynn Carter, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Studs Terkel, and others whose lives were forever changed by their care giving experience. There are also personal experiences told by many whose names you won’t recognize, yet their stories offer personal insights that can nurture and nourish   caregivers of any age.

            “Taking on the commitment as a family caregiver opens the door to frustration, irritation, indecision, fear, guilt and stress,” says Goldman, so the caregiver must take care of themselves first. Goldman notes that a mantra she often suggest to post on your mirror, refrigerator, or anywhere else to remind yourself  that you must “Take care of yourself so you can take care of others.”  It is well known that caregivers often lose sleep, don’t eat properly, don’t take breaks, and don’t believe they matter as much as the person who they’re providing care for, she adds.  “Caregivers very often put themselves and their needs last on the list. To be the best caregiver you can be you must care for yourself”.

             According to Goldman, you can be a better, more efficient caregiver if you get enough sleep, eat regular meals, and make a plan to get relief for some period of each day. “I know caregivers are often reluctant to ask a friend to fill in at home while you go to have your hair set, or meet a friend for lunch, or go for a walk in the park. Yet an hour or two away can nourish a caregiver for the next 24 hours,” she says.

             Goldman suggests that caregivers can care for themselves by attending regular support groups, sharing with a friend three things that went right during a day (when everything seems going wrong), or taking a hot bath, reading a magazine, spending a bit of  time in your garden, taking a short nap, or eating a chocolate bar!   It’s often the little things that count in surviving each day and the challenges of being an aging baby boomer caregiver or taking on the caregiver role at any age.  

 Taping into Resources…

             It is difficult for many caregivers navigate the long-term care system to find the most appropriate programs and services to keep their loved ones at home.  According to the Rhode Island Department of Human Services, Division of Elderly Affairs, the National Family Caregivers Association (NFCA) might just provide that crucial information for caregivers.  The Kensington, Maryland-based clearing house (at www.nfcacares.org) offers information on a variety of topics including, stress and family caregiving, caregiver advocacy, care management techniques, support groups, communication with health care professionals, reaching out for help, and other issues.  For more information about the books written by Connie Goldman, go to www.congoldman.org your local bookstore or Amazon.com

            Herb Weiss is a Pawtucket-based freelance writer who covers aging, health care and medical issues.  His Commentaries appear in two daily newspapers, The Pawtucket Times and Woonsocket Call.

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