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Caring for the caregiver so you can care for your charge

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Socializing is an important aspect of healthy aging.  We often focus our attention on the socialization of the individual at the end of life without paying particular attention to the person providing him or her with care.  Informal caregivers provide the majority of Long-Term Care in the United States and most report that their health is better than those who are not providing care.  But, a risk exists that for those people providing care for an extended period of time that they’ll experience much of the same forms of isolation as their charges do.  Research has shown that having good social support for the caregiver improves his or her ability to continue to provide care.

Whether the isolation is self-imposed because the caregiver stops nurturing other relationships or because friends and families get caught up in their own lives and let that relationship dissolve, it’s important that caregivers appreciate the importance of socializing in refreshing them and preparing them to return to providing care.

What that means for the caregiver.

People often offer caregivers help and then seem to go blithely on about their business while the caregiver wonders how anyone can fail to see they need help.  A friend of mine keeps a list of tasks by her door of things she’s no longer able to handle either at all or at least without help.  Every time she thinks of something it automatically goes on the list.  Then when people come over, she’s trained them to check the list to see if there’s anything they can help with.  Sometimes the projects are small like lifting an item back onto a top shelf.  Sometimes they involve more work like raking the leaves in the backyard or putting out the patio furniture.  The notes help her to remember what things she can no longer do so when someone offers to help she has a ready list.  The list also makes it possible for people to choose how much help they provide and lets them know that those things weren’t empty gestures but something really important to her.

Make a date with your friends or for yourself.  Schedule time into your schedule that allows you to go for a walk, see a movie or do other things that allow you to simply be you.  Then don’t let anything short of an emergency cancel that time off.  Once you recognize that you will return to caregiving with renewed energy, you’ll be less inclined to disregard its importance in your own health.  People supporting the caregiver by being part of that time away need to be aware that often the caregiver only feels comfortable about short blocks of time away from his or her own charge.  Rather than overscheduling, find meaningful ways to provide short breaks.

Other things you can do to provide yourself a break include: Learning a new skill—even a short respite provides the time to learn a new language or spend time with any of thousands of brain games, read, take up a hobby such as gardening, adopt a pet, or make friends with neighbors.

If you’re the caregiver, recognize that caregivers have resources available if they self-identify as caregivers.  You’ve probably heard this from other people but many people tell others that they aren’t caregivers, they are spouses or siblings or children of the individual needing help.  If you’re providing care for someone, you’re a caregiver and that allows you access to community resources and support groups.  Make sure and take advantage of those options.  They’ll help smooth the way and make the journey easier.  Many churches, communities, hospitals and senior centers offer ways to connect with other caregivers.  There are also programs such as Adult Day Care and Respite programs that provide a short break for the caregiver while their charge spends time in activities that will help keep him or her from also becoming isolated.

Finally, take care of your own health.  See a doctor when you need to.  Eat right.  Get some exercise.

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