The Caregivers Survival Guide


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With 65 million Americans currently fulfilling the "caregiver" role in some capacity, Woman's Day releases their CAREGIVING ISSUE (on newsstands now!) candidly discussing the responsibility of taking on loved ones' health issues and the personal toll that it takes on individuals and their families.

Almost one-third of American households have someone serving as an unpaid family caregiver. Typically, it's a 50-year-old woman who spends a minimum of 20 hours a week as caregiver on top of her paid job. The March issue details everything one needs to know from how to prepare financially and the choices between insurance carriers, doctors, and hospitals to what food to bring to people when they are in need.

Today our friends at Woman's Day share the Caregivers Survival Guide:

By Gail Sheehy

You can only care for another person as well as you care for yourself. Imagine yourself as a parent on a faltering plane. When the oxygen masks drop, you put yours on first, then your child’s. The same thing goes for a caregiver. To be a good care manager, you need to take care of your own health.

Keep your routine. If you normally get up and stretch and shower before sipping coffee as you get dressed and watch the news, don’t stop. Even if you’re more anxious about catching the doctor than catching up with the latest world crisis, stick with what’s most familiar. It will calm you and your family, especially if you still have children living at home.

Get serious about self-care. Don’t skip your regular checkups! Make sure you get your annual exam and tell your doctor you’re caring for a sick loved one. Even better, ask to have your necessary tests performed at the same medical center where you take your loved one and try to schedule them on the same day.

Find an enjoyable physical pursuit. I know, I know—you’ve had it drummed into your head to exercise! But do find a form of exercise you enjoy— whether it’s swimming, walking, biking, dancing or watching a movie while walking or jogging on a treadmill. Exercise increases the production of powerful feel-good endorphins, which can counteract the stress hormones that your body is probably producing more of.

Reward yourself. Make a list of the little things you enjoy—whether it’s getting a manicure, having a latte and reading the paper at the local coffee shop or even shopping— and commit to doing one every day. You need to take a break from the anxiety and reward yourself for the superb care you give your loved one. Above all, don’t feel guilty about wanting to feel good.

Breathe! Whenever we’re anxious, our breathing becomes shallow and our lungs never quite fully inflate. So there isn’t enough force to carry oxygen around to all of the cells in our body that are hungry for regeneration. This deprives the brain of the antistress hormones it needs to function calmly and clearly. Just 10 minutes of slow, deep meditative breathing will help slow your heart rate, calm your emotional state and make it easier to think clearly. Whenever you feel overwhelmed by caregiving responsibilities, take time out to sit calmly and do this.

Watch out for symptoms of depression. Caring for a sick or aging loved one can be draining— and that’s completely normal. Unfortunately, it can also pave the way for depression; those caring for someone with dementia are thought to be especially vulnerable. In fact, the Family Caregiver Alliance surveyed California caregivers of adults with chronic health problems and found that 45 percent of them had symptoms of depression. Even more reason to take steps to protect your health. Signs of a potential problem: Are you unable to sleep (or are you sleeping too much)? Do you have no appetite (or are you eating all the time)? Do you feel pessimistic about the future? Do you no longer enjoy activities you once did, like going to the movies or socializing with friends? If any of these symptoms have persisted for more than two weeks, it’s time to at least consult a doctor or therapist.

Gail Sheehy is the author of Passages in Caregiving: Turning Chaos into Confidence.

Want to learn more about caregiving? Read on:

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  • REDSHOES2011
    I have been care giver for my dad, my husband and my mother in law with help from traveling resthome helpers from the public healthy system in denmark..
    I am not able to care for a person 24-7-365. I had a job and 2 kids with ADHD whom needed my attention.
    I am happy in denmark, the elderly and sick can ask the state for help.. It is not necessary to give up ones home and go live like a child with your kids when you no longer can keep a home..
    We resthome helpers are paid by the state to care for a group of people, we work in 2's so if one has holidays the other main helper is at work and can explain temporary workers how we help our clients..
    We give people as many visits as a social worker grants and this can be revised with short notice..
    We also understand not all families are loving towards each other.. Some children don't get on with parents and reverse.. Some of our client actually don't wish their family in their door telling them what to do.. It is also humiliation city being washed by one's own child.. I ask the elderly why they don't go on holiday with family- they don't want family washing them below the belt..
    You think your saving money, but remember if the elderly are not grantful perhaps your actions are humiliating..
    Many elderly thank God for Social reform.. They remember the bad old days of being 7 kids, parents and grandparents in 3 roomed house.. NO private life, being picked on and generations not understanding each other..
    Can't afford help, what did parents do to get you through school and life safely.. They are not just something you store in a extra room..

    Believe it or not they need people around them their own age to not go nutty and ga ga.. - 5/30/2011   1:07:46 PM
  • 20
    It's so easy to say you have to take care of yourself to be a good caregiver to others. I am really upset every time I hear that. No one really knows what it takes to be a caregiver unless you are one and even then situations are different for all of us. You are lucky to have a few minutes for yourself here and there. Maybe if you had family or friends around that was willing to take some of the "burden" from you but that isn't often the case. It takes alot to be a caregiver to someone you love. You give up everything of yourself to make them comfortable, secure and make them feel loved.
    I am the only caregiver to my husband who had a stroke back in early last year. I am taking care of our kids, the house, our pets. I make sure he takes his meds, gets to appointments (at least one every day), I don't have much time for myself or any help from family (just blame of the things I don't do right) and friends (who think you should have a handle on things by now). Taking care of myself is not a top priority of mine right now especially since everyone depends on me. I can't afford anyone coming to our home for care (they are not cheap). I don't work outside of the home, I can't leave DH alone or in the care of our kids (15, 12 and 9) so I can have a break.

    I do feel overwhelmed and tired more often than not but I can't give up. Who else would want to have this "job" that doesn't pay, has long hours, is hard work emotionally and physically etc.

    - 5/29/2011   1:00:13 PM
  • 19
    As both a nurse and a 'caregiver' the best thing I can reccomend is to never forget to take time for your self. The role of 'caregiver' can be very overwhelming and it is very important to accept help when it is offered, expecially when it doesn't happen very often. - 2/28/2011   8:07:13 AM
  • 18
    I have to tell those of you in the position of caring for a parent, cherish the time you have with them, and take comfort in the care you can provide knowing how much it's appreciated by them. I just lost my mom after 5 1/2 months of a bedridden illness, I can honestly say I was able to appreciate the time I had with her and that we left nothing left unsaid. - 2/25/2011   4:53:40 PM
  • 17
    At the present time, I am not a care giver. My mom is 83, but still in tip top shape.
    I did look after my first husband, while he was dying with cancer, and I thank God, everyday, that I had help from family and friends. It is a horrible hard job, and you need all the help you can get. It's hard enough to care for a loved one, who is totally incapacitated, and then to have to watch them die, before your eyes. The hardest thing I've ever done. - 2/23/2011   6:14:00 PM
  • MARSHA48
    Hi, I've been with SP over 3 years now. I am age 51, married, 2 grown children living on their own now. I'm "SOLE" caretaker, though I have 4 other siblings (Who don't care about Mother), that don't help me/us either with anything she needs or has ever needed. Before the 10 year span of my taking care of Mother, I took care of her years befor that even BY MYSELF. Because of her having a Heart attach (1st ever) in 2001, with Mild Pneamonia, she was told to choose someone to live with by her DoctorS. She chose ME. :) Thank God. I take my responsibility seriously as should everyone in my shoes. I've been a SAHM Most of my life and am now a stay at home caretaker. I don't drive. We rely upon City Handicap buses when need be. DH drives but works days. Mother's Alzheimers is going downhill FAST as of last December. She is now on, Aricept and Namenda. Plus ALL the others she has taken for all these years. Mother is the only parent DH & I Have left on both sides of our family. We charish EVERY moment with her. :) We are Blessed. Mother is age 89 now, born in October 1921., in Kentucky. :)
    Anyone needing online support may emal me here at SP anytime. I would love to talk. Serious inquiries only please.
    I am the youngest of 3 girls and 2 boys that Mother had/has. I do have 1 brother is 3 years younger than me, but I am the youngest girl. I go to support meatings at a church nearby, once a Month. I wished they had more meatings though. One hour is usually all the time they give us. Not enough. Mother has had Alzheimers for 7 years or so, and it's just now starting to decline rapidly. Alzhemimers, goes at a different pace with each person. And they say, Most Likely, it won't be the Alzheimers that kills the loved one. but it has happened that way. Mother doesn't Drink or smoke and never has iin all her life. She has never driven a vehicle either so has always either walked or rode a City Bus. Exersize, proof it is good for you. :)
    I love my Job as caretaker of Mother, but yes, it is demanding of me and Can be stressfull, IF you don't get the help you need. I have been doing that since December 2010. the Alzheimers Association got me started on things we needed and Mother needs. go to their website if you need help or have questions. I strongly recommend them. CHOICE is another sight to go too. May GB each and everyone of us who care for our loved one/s as caregivers, god give us strength and courage and wisdom. Guide our hearts and souls and Bless our Families is my prayer for us all, amen and AMEN.

    I wanted to add: that I had to be the one years ago to tell My Doctor that I have to take care of myself in order to be Mother ONLY caretaker. :) Yeah! I don't know why she did n't see it back then. But I am glad to hear some of you all saying the same thing, YES, Please take care of yourself. :) YOU ARE IMPORTANT to the person/s you care for be it full time or not. I'm not able to work due to being the SOLE caretaker. And Mother just started part time day care in December of 2010, that helps me and her both. BUT I was told to get out of the house on Mother's day care days, dont' just stay indoors. :)

    Sorry, I'm back. :) I just read a few more comments below. I must say this: This article IS NOT A JOKE. It is REAL LIFE and it happens. Be it Big or small, a Health condition is just that, A HEALTH CONDITION. No matter how you slice it, it is bad enough for ANY caretaker of any situation.
    Each person/caregiver knows what their caregiving intales and should act accordingly. If you take care of someone in your home, or they go to another person's home, or to a Nursing home, or another facility, that doesn't matter. Caretakers are those who supply help for someone who needs them in ANY situation, anywhere, anytime. :) Because of my NON caring siblings, IF not for me, Mother wouldn't have anyone to care for her and she would be FORCED into a Nursing home. I WILL NOT SEE that in my time here on earth. - 2/23/2011   4:25:59 PM
  • 15
    My husband and I are caregivers for his mother and his aunt. When it got to be too much, we were able to give them a wonderful home at an assisted living facility. We visit often but the truth is, we just couldn't take care of them and work at our jobs too. We had to ask for help. Now that we have help, we are healthier, laugh often, and feel like everyone is getting the care they deserve. . .including us. - 2/23/2011   2:04:03 PM
  • 14
    I am the primary caregiver of my 79 year old husband and I get exhausted and worn out at times ... like right now! I'm run down and can't get rid of a bad cold. Thankfully I have great help in my 81 year old sister and her husband ... they take us out for supper and a visit weekly and sometimes out for a coffee and chat during the week. Other than that, help is not really there and it is difficult for a caregiver to take great care of HERSELF! It seems the person you're tending to all day every day needs your time.
    Please don't say 'get out and exercise', 'go have a manicure', 'go for coffee with a friend' ... in real life, it doesn't work that way.
    Yes, I'm way overweight and my appetite goes up and down, depending on what all is required of me from my mate. But, I don't give up, when things aren't too bad I really watch my food intake and ride my stationary bike.
    Yes, I get depressed at times, I feel like I've lost my husband and have become a nurse instead of a wife. But that's what life's all about .... taking care of our loved ones as they'd take care of us if it was reversed. - 2/22/2011   8:59:21 PM
  • 13
    I moved back in with my parents after my mom had a hemorrhagic stroke 2 1/2 years ago. I have been one of her primary caregivers since then. I understand some of the comments to this blog saying it's pretty unrealistic to have leisure time, but I think the key for me is in the fact that I am "one of" the primary caregivers. My father, my grandmother, and I all share the responsibility of helping out. It's very easy to think you have to do everything on your own (especially if you're a woman), and sometimes that IS the case, but it's SO important to ask for help from other family members and close friends when you can. It's not a sign of weakness, and getting that help has kept all of us from becoming resentful. - 2/22/2011   3:39:53 PM
  • 12
    I have for most of my adult life been a caregiver of someone in my family. First my grandmother and then both of my parents. I am still working on SELF-CARE. It is true if you don't take care of yourself, you will not be able to care for anyone else. I hope everyone who is a caregiver will read this and find something to make the task of caregiving a little easier. - 2/22/2011   2:40:09 PM
  • 11
    This blog was so unrealistic that I can't believe it was written by anyone who's ever had to care for a seriously ill relative, like a post-surgical cancer patient.When you have a complex schedule of changing dressings and administering meds every few hours and giving constant attention to tempermental feeding tubes and medical appliances, all of which have to be moved along with her whenever she needs the bathroom, umpteen trips for various follow-up appointments--That is the true reality of caregiving. Usual routine, enjoyable pursuits, rewards, manicures, exercise, etc., are unreachable stars. This article must have been written by someone whose parent needed only very light or routine care--for most of us facing serious caregiver issues--cancer, alzheimers, stroke, amputations--this ridiculous blog offers nothing but a sad laugh. It gives people very little sense of the reality of caregiving and leaves you ill-prepared for when it happens to your parent, if you think being a caregiver is as light and easy as this blog makes it sound. "Me time" what a joke! "Ask for Help" from whom? Candid, my foot, this article is pure sugar-coating. - 2/22/2011   2:16:02 PM
  • 10
    this is such a great blog i have my mom and my mil that live in homes and we check on them all the time the people that care for them are such great people i am so glad to have them.. - 2/22/2011   1:26:20 PM
  • 9
    I'm a caregiver. We built my parents a house 100" behind ours & they have been living there for 5 years. When we moved them to our backyard, I thought they would probably only last a couple years. But..they are still going strong. It seems almost everyday there is some type of challenge. Example: getting them to take .their meds, running to ER, taking them to dr appts, buying groceries for them, picking up prescriptions, etc.
    I am an only child & I do not regret moving them behind me. The problem is that they expect me to do everything. They do not seem to be grateful for all I do, it's just my job.
    My husband also fell off a ladder on 10-28-10 & had multiple fractures in his foot & a crushed heel. The doctor said his heel was like a bowl of cornflakes. So, I've been taking care of him also. He's been in the hospital 6 times and had 2 surgeries since his fall. He is just now being able to put weight on his foot & starting to re-learn the walking process. Since he cannot go work...I'm doing all of his work at our office.
    I went in to see my doctor a month ago & she said that I was leaning toward depression. She put me on meds & told me that I had to take time for myself & lose some weight. I am a stress eater & I am always stressed...She also recommended I try sparkpeople for logging in my calories.

    So, now it's been one month since I started sparkpeople & I'm done 9 lbs. I am exercising 30 minutes 6 days a week & feeling so much better. Still needing to learn more about caregiving. I had let it take over my life. - 2/22/2011   11:05:37 AM
    I'm not a caregiver, but a cousin of mine is for her mother, my aunt. caring for my aunt is a very difficult job. How does my cousin cope ? She understands the importance of getting some time to herself. So, she reads and goes to museums. She also understands the importance of getting some regular exercise. She loves the Zumba class at her gym. it's not only fun, it's her release valve for all the stress she experiences.
    - 2/22/2011   10:06:07 AM
  • 7
    I am the primary person dealing with my father-in-law and his mild to moderate dimentia. I don't so much mind driving him around or dispensing his medications, it's his denial that there's anything wrong with him and his occasional anger which is always directed at me. It would be so much easier if he would "remember" that he has dimentia! - 2/22/2011   9:07:37 AM
    Some years ago, I was involved in a support group for cerebral aneurysm survivors and their caregivers. Since I was one of the survivors, it was quite enlightening to hear how it was from both sides. Patients don't mean to be ungrateful, but there are a lot of psychological issues going on. Loss of independence can be devastating and for many asking for and/or receiving help from loved ones can feel like a mixed bag.

    Please, if you are a caregiver, do not forget that YOU need care, too. Wild4Stars hit the nail on the head with the comment that it is key to ASK FOR HELP. If you don't have family members who can give you regular breaks, find an organization that will provide assistance. They're out there, you just have to spend some time locating them. Some even provide the service at no cost.

    Communication with a support group is very helpful, too, but the most important communication (IMHO) is between caregiver and patient - and those conversations can be the most difficult to have. Sometimes it is necessary to say things like, "I know this is hard for you, but I'm doing the best I can."

    It's not just about the time and energy it takes to care for a loved one. It is so emotionally draining!

    God bless all who find themselves in need of care...and all those who find themselves caring for loved ones. - 2/22/2011   7:17:09 AM
  • 5
    I work as a nurse that coordinates doctor house calls for Frail Elders. The program is possible because it is associated with a Family Practice residency program. It is a wonderful opportunity for learning doctors to understand the effort and services needed to care for these patients at home. Much of my work is supporting the care givers - they are doing a very, very tough job and it is so important that they remember to take care of themselves. One of my patients had severe dementia and lived with his elderly wife. His daughter was a primary care giver - she worked a job and traveled every day to help her mother with her father's care. She told me her secret to keeping her sanity was the hour she carved out of her day to go to the gym. It was "her time" and it kept her going.
    My mother had Alzheimer's and my sister Susan was her primary care giver. One of my other sisters paid her bills and another took her on Sundays so Susan would have a little break. I used to take her with me for a two week "vacation" in the summer. Thanks to my sister, my mother was able to live out her life in the home she had known for most of her life, but I know how hard it was for her to "carve out " that time for herself. It isn't all that simple sometime. Family support is really important. - 2/21/2011   10:46:13 PM
    I care for my almost 92 year old Mother. She's been with me for over 10 years. She has developed slight dementia and is in a wheelchair. I work full time and have a paid caregiver here while I work. We didn't need a caregiver until the past 2 years. I can tell you it is a tough job. Everyone says you need to make time to do social things, but nobody realizes how difficult it can be to do that. Almost nobody ever wants to help out with the elderly. It's so costly to hire a service to come in. So, unless you can find or afford someone to come in regularly, you can forget about a regular social life. I love my Mom but boy, this is the hardest thing to cope with at times. However, I feel that if she were in a nursing home, she would really go downhill fast. She had a bad fall 2 years ago and had to be in one for about 5 weeks for rehab. I saw how it affected her mind in just that time, even though I visited her every night and twice a day on weekends. It was a real nice place, but, It's frightening to be somewhere that is understaffed and so busy they seem to ignore you. And, they are all understaffed. She feels more comfortable at home. - 2/21/2011   10:11:08 PM
  • 3
    I was caring for my Dad in his 90s. It worked well as he lived with us 8 mos. and went South to live with my Brother for four months. DH was Diabetic and started resenting the attention I gave Dad. His condition greatly deteriorated and so another Brother had to take Dad after we had him for 7 yrs. So Dad eventually died in a rest home and I am so glad for the time I put into him. Now DH is still a handfull and having only Sons, I rarely get a break. How can I prod them to share some responsibility? Each of their wives work as do they. I am exhausted and obese and 75 yrs. old with some health issues of my own. - 2/21/2011   10:11:00 PM
  • 2
    My siblings & I are faced with the fact of my 85 yo mum's need for assistance. She is proudly independent and was the fulltime Carer of my dad for many years until he died 4 years ago.
    The last few years she has had a hip replaced, but 2 weeks ago fell over and broke her wrist. She is now in hospital with pneumonia. I live interstate with my own family, my sister is o.s, so only my brother to attend. It is very difficult for me because I want her to live with me so I can tend to her, but she, of course needs to be in her familiar, chosen environment. She dissmissed the care we had in place last time, preferring a non- govt funded friend. I do not think we can afford her. I will go & stay with her when she gets out of hospital. The key to my sanity with this is communication between my brothers and sisters, and my mum's sisters too. This blog is so timely for me, thanks spark! - 2/21/2011   6:13:15 PM
  • 1
    I assist with the care for my Mother-In-Law with Alzheimer's. It can be exhausting just to keep your patience in check. My 89 year old Father-In-Law has his own physical issues and doesn't always have the patience he needs. We have recently put her in an assisted living facitlity and I can already see the difference in him. While he's sad that she's "away" he is more able to take care of himself. He's still able to take her out a couple days a week, but the bulk of her care has been transferred and that is huge. The key here is to ASK FOR HELP!

    **It's not a statement of your lack, it's a statement of your caring.**

    It's not easy and sometimes you just need to say, "I NEED SUPPORT." That is easier said than done.

    If you have a family member in that position, look for the signs of needing support. Then offer it. I started out just staying with my MIL one morning a week so FIL could have breakfast with his friends. It was a bonding time for me and MIL, and it gave FIL a much needed break. They say it takes a village to raise a child, but sometimes it takes a village to care for our elderly. They've earned it! - 2/21/2011   5:28:03 PM

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