Nothing in life is more a labor of love than caring for a parent, a spouse, a disabled child, or even a dear friend who cannot manage life alone. This task requires a special sort of person. If you find yourself in this position, know you are not alone. This circumstance has become much more common over the last century with the extension of life expectancy and the aging of the vast Baby Boomer generation.
Because you face a common situation, there are many good examples and helpful hints available for you. However, the single most important insight for anyone in your position is this: You cannot adequately care for a loved one if you do not take good care of yourself. Self-care for the caregiver involves several important steps.
Remembering you are a complex person with physical, emotional, and intellectual needs, it is a great idea to develop a plan that addresses all these areas. Perhaps the easiest aspect to overlook is physical well-being. Start by eating properly. Do not neglect exercise. While aerobics like walking or biking are excellent, you do not have to go beyond simple motion exercises like Tai, Chi, yoga, or even stretching.
Don’t forget your own dreams and goals, like finishing school or starting a business. You may have to alter how you go about it (taking classes online instead of in-person), but your wants and desires still have value. Be sure to carve out space for yourself.
Your mental and emotional health is also vital. Engage your mental processes through reading, working jigsaw puzzles, crossword puzzles, or Sudoku. No matter how much you love a homebound person, constant care is emotionally taxing. Be sure to build some time away into your schedule to rest and replenish your inner resources. One of the greatest help in this regard comes from respite organizations. Fortunately, larger metropolitan communities have well-developed respite services.
Keep Up the Fun Stuff
Before you assumed the caregiver role, you probably shared a relationship that involved activities you both enjoyed. To the extent possible, you want to maintain and even extend those relaxing elements. For example, if you like watching movies together, never has there been a time when films were more accessible via streaming services.
One of the real pleasures for homebound people is socializing. As restrictive as your circumstances may be, video conferencing helps re-establish ties. Consider welcoming new pets either to stay or just to visit.
Lighten Your Load
A frequent mistake made by new caregivers is trying to do everything themselves. Engaging professional help with household chores gives you more time for the important items you do not want to trust to others. For example, if you have a yard to care for, consider bringing in an outstanding landscape professional to keep things beautiful. You can begin by checking online reviews of different outfits and watching for special services, deals, and credits they may offer to help contain costs. Then invite them over for a personal interview. Follow these same tactics for housekeeping or meal preparation.
Those outside a caregiving relationship often do not recognize the benefits enjoyed both by the receiver and the giver of in-home nurture. Physical restrictions do not limit the ability of the mind and spirit to soar. Thus, the compassion and companionship of this experience can be a wonderful time of growth for both individuals, provided self-care is prioritized along with the care given.
Written by: Annabelle Harris
Annabelle Harris is the creator of Elders.Center. Her goal is to help soon-to-be-seniors and already-seniors move gracefully into their golden years with less fear and more confidence.