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Caretakers Need Care Too

Posted on: July 8th, 2015 by Kristin Zimmermann
Category: About MS, Managing MS, MS Treatments

man reading, caretaker in backgroundWhen you were sick as a kid, you had a parent, aunt or uncle, grandparent, or neighbor to take care of you. They brought you to the doctor; picked up your medications, measured the doses, and made sure you took them at the right time; they put cold rags on your forehead; slept next to you, and so on. It’s a natural instinct to take care of the young, but as adults, we still need caretakers when we’re sick — and often the caretaker winds up needing care.

When your full-time job is managing someone else’s needs, it’s easy to neglect your own. You might forget to make doctors’ appointments for yourself, you may be too worn out to exercise and eat well, and perhaps too distracted to sit down and relax. Your time is spent making sure someone else gets to the doctor, someone else eats well and gets fresh air, and someone else is comfortable, which is wonderful and selfless. But caretakers have to remember to care for themselves so they’re well enough to do their job and to live a healthy life.

Our friend Cherie Binns recently wrote an article on this topic. Sadly, she just lost her mother, who was the caretaker of her late father. Her father was suffering from cancer, and while her mom tended to his every need, she was ignoring her own health. She did not discover she had Congestive Heart Failure — and that she had already suffered a heart attack — until she was putting her husband into hospice care. She died six months after he passed.

Cherie’s article sheds light on this extremely important topic, and suggests some excellent resources that might help reduce the stress that comes with being a caretaker. (You can read the full article here.) And here are some quick tips for taking care of yourself while you’re caring for someone else.

  • Don’t be afraid to ask for help: This tip is first because it is by far the most important. There is no shame in needing help and asking for it. No one can do everything himself. It’s impossible. And trying to do so will only drive you mad. Asking for assistance can ease your stress, free up some of your time to take care of your own needs, and make staying organized easier. Some ideas:

    • Order groceries online and have them delivered to your home, if there is a grocery delivery service available in your area.
    • You can often set it up so that medications are sent in three-month supplies directly to your patient’s home. This is usually cheaper than picking them up individually. Check with your insurance company or pharmacy to find out how to do it.
    • If it’s financially possible, hire someone to clean your house once a week (or even once every two weeks).
    • If you have a spouse and/or children, enlist them to help out around the house. Have them help you cook, do laundry, and run errands if and when they are able.
    • Set up carpools if you have younger children so you don’t always have to drive them to school or extracurricular activities.
    • Accept offers from friends and neighbors to take your loved one out for a drive or a walk, pick up something at the store for you, or just to fill in when you need a little time for yourself. And if they don’t offer, ask. Chances are, they were looking for a way to help you, but weren’t sure what to do.
    • Ask around and see what other people are doing to make their lives a little more streamlined and less stressful. You might come across some really helpful tips.
  • Try to keep your schedule. Try to maintain your regular schedule as much as you can, and for the person you’re caring for as well. Keeping things as “normal” as possible with tweaks wherever necessary may make life less stressful for everyone involved.
  • Look for local resources. There may be support groups for caretakers, events going on that the person you’re caring for might enjoy, or educational opportunities through your area’s MS Chapter that would be beneficial to you. Consider joining an online support group — CareGiving.com is a fantastic community site for caregivers.
  • Stay social: Stay connected to your other family members and friends, near and far. Use Facebook and email, invite a friend over for coffee, or host a potluck game night. Everyone needs friends to talk to and lean on.
  • Eat well: You’re likely making sure that the person you’re caring for eats well, so follow the same rules. Eat your fruits and veggies and get a good, re-usable water bottle so you can sip on it all day long. Dehydration can make you feel exhausted. If you don’t love plain water, jazz it up with lemon, lime, cucumber, or freeze chunks of melon for fruity “ice cubes.” And of course, you deserve the occasional treat. Eating well and staying hydrated will help keep your energy and mood up, and your body and mind strong.
  • Move as much as you can. You can try to fit in a workout before your day starts or in the late afternoon or evening if you can. Or you can take your patient for a walk so you’ll both reap the benefits of fresh air. Walk to the grocery store if you have to pick up something. Take a trip around the block. No matter what, do the best you can to squeeze in some extra steps, stretches or squats whenever you can. Moving more will also keep your body nimble and your mind sharp.
  • Set reminders. You may already be setting reminders on your own phone for important dates and events for the person you’re caring for, so use it to remind yourself about your own yearly doctors’ appointments and bi-annual dentist appointments. Or use a service like ZocDoc, which will automatically send you reminders. If you can, try to make all your appointments on the same day so they’re over and done with in one fell swoop. You can even see if your loved one’s doctor and dentist will see you both on the same day if to make things easier.
  • Take time for yourself: If you’re the sole caretaker of a loved one, try as hard as you can to take one day per week or per month for yourself. If you have the resources, hire a nurse to take over for a day, or ask another family member or trusted friend if they’ll do it. Use your day to do whatever you want!
  • Keep your sense of humor. TRY to find the humor in things and stay positive. It is not always easy, and you may have to remind yourself sometimes, but a negative attitude is not helping anyone.
  • Take a vacation: Even if it’s a “staycation,” try as hard as you can to set up some kind of vacation. If you’re the caregiver for your spouse or parent, bring along a friend, family member, or neighbor to help you out. You can all enjoy a little time away to recharge. Everyone needs that sometimes.

Please feel free to add your own tips in the comments — and to share this with anyone you know who might benefit from the information.

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