En español | Being a caregiver for a parent or loved one can be rewarding, but it can also be grueling and sometimes frustrating. It's important to take care of yourself, too. Follow these 11 rules, and you'll be on your way to providing your loved one with the best possible care.
See also: Caregivers can get paid.
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1. I will not silently shoulder the lion's share of care.
If you feel you're carrying too much of the burden, say so. No one can read your mind and others may not realize that you're overwhelmed. So don't avoid telling them — calmly, and without accusation or blame. Spell out what they can do to help: grocery shopping, driving to medical appointments, covering your carpool day for the kids, or even treating you to dinner and a movie.
2. I will not feel guilty because I don't live nearby.
Regret weighs heavily on long-distance caregivers, who often shift their schedules, miss work, spend huge amounts of money and time on travel, plus hours talking to doctors and financial experts — yet share none of the satisfaction, however fleeting, of 24/7 caregivers. This is not your fault.
A few options to help from afar: Hire a geriatric care manager you trust to help coordinate local care services. You can find one through AARP or the National Association of Professional Geriatric Care Managers. Call the local postmaster near your loved one to arrange for the free Carrier Alert program, In this program, mail carriers alert you, or a social service agency, if mail and trash have piled up, indicating a shift in a senior's health status.
3. I will get organized.
Create a master contact list (including names, phone numbers, email addresses) of nearby friends, neighbors, doctors, clergy, housing managers or apartment front-desk staff. Include the local pharmacist, who can be reached in the event of an emergency. Distribute the contact list to all family members and, if your loved one still lives at home, prominently post a copy where everyone in the house can see it.
4. I will join a support group.
Every caregiver needs a talking buddy to listen while he or she vents. Talking to people who have been there, done that, is even more helpful. A supprt group, whether it's online or in your community, can give you guidance, tips and solace. So can friends and co-workers who have also been down this road. So if you need help — or just need someone to hug — ask.
5. I will take time for myself.
Don't drop out of your book club or any other activity that brings you joy. Keeping up with the activities and relationships that stimulate your mind and soul is essential.
6. I will get enough sleep.
No one can function when sleep-deprived. Sleep loss cripples your ability to concentrate, problem solve and remember. Try to get eight hours a night. Nap when the person you're caring for does. Every so often, take a break: Ask someone to come over for a few hours or to take Mom to respite care for an afternoon. Mom will be fine. And you'll feel much better.
7. I will find time to exercise.
As one expert said, aerobic exercise is Miracle Gro for the brain. It not only keeps the body in shape, but it keeps the brain sharp. If you can't get to the gym, buy or download an exercise video. Ask a friend to pinch hit for you while you walk or jog for 30 minutes. Find way to make it happen.
8. I will not neglect my own family.
Yes, your parent needs you. But so does your spouse (and your kids). Consider hiring a night caregiver a few times a week so you can be home for dinner or go out to a movie — or better yet, an overnight away.
9. I will keep my work life in order.
If you work outside the home and are finding that you're not doing either job as well as you would like, consider taking a break from your job. Employees covered under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act may be able to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave per year to care for relatives. Check with your human resources department to learn about your options for unpaid leave or flextime, job-sharing or telecommute policies.
10. I will learn to say no.
Trim down on your other responsibilities. The church, PTA, hospital auxiliary and library will find others to help when you're devoting your time to caregiving. And you'll be back. Remember: No one can do everything all the time. Not even you.
11. I will veg out in front of the TV.
Rent reruns of I Love Lucy. Or download laughing baby videos from YouTube. Humor lightens your load and lifts everyone spirits. We don't do it enough.
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