Caregivers: Take Care of Yourself, Too
While rewarding, caring for a loved one with a serious illness can take a toll on the caregiver. Learn how to care for yourself, too.

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Caring for an ill or dying loved one can be one of the most rewarding things you will ever do. It can also take a toll on your health and well-being. Depression and stress are common for caregivers, whether they are spouses, partners, children, or friends.

Caregivers often ignore their own health because they are so focused on their loved one. If you are caring for someone, pay attention to your needs, too. If you're feeling down, lonely, and overwhelmed, ask for help.

How to manage stress
Millions of caregivers in the United States act as full-time nurses to ill loved ones while still managing all of the household chores and errands. That can add up to a lot of stress. Here are some tips for coping:

  • Stay as informed as you can about your loved one's symptoms and treatment. Learn what to expect as the illness progresses.
  • Keep a list of questions and observations about your loved one. Take it with you to his or her doctors' appointments. Ask the doctor to make time for your questions and concerns. At this time, discuss only your loved one's health, not yours.
  • Get legal and financial help, if needed. You may need a lawyer and perhaps a financial adviser to create a power of attorney, a will, and a living will, and to help you with insurance policies.
  • Talk to a medical social worker (ask your doctor or hospital for a referral). He or she can help you find agencies and other community resources to help.
  • Take a break. Don't let caregiving become a full-time job. Use hospice services. Ask friends or other family members to take your place for a day or a half-day every week. Contact your church, mosque, or synagogue about volunteer caregiving teams in your area. Use the free time to do something for you: Go to a museum, take a day trip, see a movie, eat in a restaurant, or go shopping.
  • Take care of yourself. Eat right, exercise, and get enough rest. Watch for warning signs of depression, such as feeling sad and hopeless, losing interest in food and activities, or having sleep problems. Don't delay in getting help for depression.
  • Find a support group for caregivers. Some are sponsored by hospitals and community centers. The Internet has chat rooms, discussion groups, and websites devoted solely to supporting caregivers.
By Gregg Newby, Staff Writer
Created on 04/20/2000
Updated on 06/15/2011
Sources:
  • Helpguide. Preventing caregiver burnout: Tips and support for family caregivers.
  • Helpguide. Support for Alzheimer's and dementia caregivers: What the caregiver needs.
  • Wolff JL, Dy SM, Frick KD, Kasper JD. End-of-life care: findings from a national survey of informal caregivers. Archives of Internal Medicine. 2007;167(1):40-46.
Copyright © OptumHealth.
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