Whether you’re caring for an aging parent or a child or spouse with a serious illness, caregiver burnout is very real and the caregiver needs to be aware of it and take steps to address it. Caregivers may scoff at that because with the tasks they are charged with, they may feel they simply don’t have time to care for themselves, but it is crucial that they do or their health will suffer.
What can a person do when he or she is faced (and sometimes forced) into a caregiver role? Many times caregivers are tasked with working outside of the home as well as now caring for a loved one and burn out can be a result.
Here are some tips to consider in order to address stress and prevent burnout:
- Be clear with yourself and your loved one about just how much you can handle and be willing to bring in outside medical help. Even purchasing and using a home medical alert device will allow the caregiver to leave for work, if necessary, with the peace of mind that his or her loved one will have access to medical care if needed.
- Talk with friends and family about the situation and reach out to them for help. If you don’t ask, chances are you won’t receive help because many people simply don’t know what to do or say and won’t likely volunteer. However, if you reach out, you will find friends and family will be more than willing to lend a hand.
- While making difficult decisions in the midst of high crisis is not ideal, there may be a time when you need to make quick, and difficult, decisions regarding the care and living arrangements of a loved one. It may seem odd to have a sit-down with your family while everyone is in good health, but it will save stress later if you’ve discussed the wishes of the individuals involved (of any age) on what healthcare and living arrangements they’d prefer in the event they can no longer age in place.
- Get your paperwork in order. Make sure you understand where all the health and legal paperwork is kept. If necessary, arrange for a power of attorney and health care proxy paperwork to be prepared. In the event of a health emergency, if you don’t have a healthcare proxy, the physicians don’t have to share information with you and you will have no rights to make decisions on anyone’s behalf.
- Make a visit to your loved one’s physician so you have a basic understanding of the health issue he or she is facing, what the potential outcomes are and what you – as the caregiver – should anticipate.
- Understand your own limits. If you’re working full time and taking care of your own children – which is many times the case for Sandwich Generation caregivers – you may need to let go of some items and ask for, or hire, help. If you don’t have time to do housework or yardwork, hire a professional or a next door neighbor to help out. Do batch cooking on the weekends and freeze meals so you have heat-and-eat foods throughout the week.
- Practice self-care. It is not selfish to step away for an hour or two. Take a walk. Relax in a bubble bath. Browse the mall. Read a book in the park. Caregivers forget that they need as much care as the ill or aging loved one they are caring for. Caring for yourself and stepping away from the caregiver role for a few hours a week is crucial to your continued mental health and physical well-being.
Knowing yourself and understanding your limits will go a long way in helping you remain an effective caregiver to your loved one.
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