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5 Tips for Caregivers to Reduce Self-Neglect

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January 6, 2017

Caring for a spouse, parent or other relative no doubt has its rewards. You have the opportunity to build a deep connection with a loved one and care for someone who perhaps once cared for you.

But caregiving also involves great sacrifices that can range from time to money to your personal health. If you neglect your own physical, mental and financial well-being, you may become unable to continue caring for your loved one. That benefits no one.

So how can you avoid self-neglect or take steps to reduce it? We recently asked members of the CaregiversStress.com® community on the web and on Facebook to talk about the sacrifices they have made in order to become caregivers. Their responses about self-neglect provide inspiration for these tips to avoid it.

1. Make Time for Yourself

“My husband was told he had MS in 2001. I went to work to support us until he started falling down in 2006. I became his caretaker. I have had just 48 hours off in the 10 years since then. That is it. What to do?”
– Kayo

If you struggle to find time for yourself, try asking other family members and friends for help. Sometimes caregivers hesitate to reach out because they believe others will reject their request for assistance. But you never know until you ask.

Other sources of caregiving help that can provide you with needed respite include professional services like Home Instead Senior Care® [http://www.homeinstead.com], faith communities and some charitable organizations. 

2. Make Your Own Health a Priority

“Recently I've had to go to two doctors, call EMS once, go to ER in hypertensive crisis, and to chiropractor to adjust the pain in my back and leg.”
– Theresa W.

Many people find they sacrifice their health when they become caregivers. When all of your time goes to tending your loved one’s needs, how can you get to the doctor yourself?

Always remember you cannot serve from an empty well. If you neglect your own health, you might eventually find yourself unable to care for your loved one. Thus, you must make your own well-being a priority as well.

Consider enlisting a family member or a professional caregiver to care for your loved one for a half-day so you can keep your routine medical appointments. You owe it to yourself.

3. Research Financial Resources

“[I gave up] my personal job. We had to give up our home and move into an RV just outside of my mother’s house.”
– Melissa P.

Caregiving can place a substantial financial burden on caregivers. Some find they must shoulder all of the costs of care because their loved one lacks the financial means. Other times, caregiving requires so great a time investment that the family caregiver has no time for a job.

If you find yourself heading toward financial trouble due to your role as a caregiver, investigate available resources and programs. Low-income seniors, veterans and others who require care may qualify for free day programs or direct financial assistance. A good place to begin your search for resources is your local Area Agency on Aging [http://www.n4a.org/].

4. Take Baby Steps to Re-Engage with Life 

“I am having trouble trying to re-engage. I did go to a painting class and can't seem to find the way back.”
– Sandy M.

It can be hard to shift your focus back to self-care and re-integration with life after spending months or years as a caregiver. Try to keep in mind you did not become a caregiver overnight, and getting back to your other life also will take time and require baby steps. Enrolling in a painting class or another activity is a good starting point. Even if the activity doesn’t feel the same as it did before you became a caregiver, give it time and keep trying.

If, after a period of time, you still find yourself struggling to define a personal life for yourself, consider seeking counseling with a mental health professional.

5. Keep an Optimistic Perspective

“At 27 years old I gave up a budding career, a new life in a new home in a new city, and my social life to move to the middle of nowhere and become a full-time caregiver. However, my experience in caregiving for my grandmother who has been paralyzed and lost all speech function due to a stroke has been a blessing I never asked for. I've been able to spend quality time with the people who matter most in my life. My relationships are stronger, both family and personal. It's all about perspective.”
– Erika L.

Maintaining a positive outlook about caregiving can help you avoid burnout and self-neglect. No doubt it can be difficult to find perspective, though, when you’ve been providing full-time care for years, or even decades. If you find you no longer can see anything positive in your caregiving life, it might be a sign you need to seek help.

Consider enlisting friends or professional caregivers to provide respite care on a regular basis so you can indulge in luxuries as small as a long, hot bath or as large as a weekend getaway. And if your caregiving sacrifices make you feel depressed, consider seeking help from a mental health professional.

The caregiving burden can cause isolation and self-neglect for family caregivers, and that doesn’t benefit anybody. Fortunately, you can employ the strategies here to carve out time to tend to your own needs. This may help keep you healthy and able to care for your loved one for a long time to come.

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Thoughts and stories from others
  1. February 9, 2017 at 11:02 am | Posted by Lauren

    My daughter has 5 life-threatening conditions and autism. I was in a car accident 10 yrs. ago (other person at fault) that caused permanent spinal damage. My biggest fear beyond that I won't outlive her is that I won't be able to take care of her as long as I thought.

    Reply

  2. January 28, 2017 at 12:23 pm | Posted by Wanda

    My mother is 99, I am 73........she has been living "independently" in a complex of 20 apts with other seniors. She had been doing very well until the past 5 years or so when she fell on ice getting into her car. The following Spring she gave up her car and driving, but now requires a walker. This past year she's had 2 mini strokes which she has recovered well from both but now requires assistance of aides 2-4 hours daily in her apartment for bathing and meals and seeing that she takes her Meds and light house cleanings . She now gets Meals on Wheels M-F...... I live just out of town and am still recovering the loss of my husband. Always feel overwhelmed. On the alert.

    Reply

  3. January 26, 2017 at 7:28 pm | Posted by Bill

    I do hire a professional to come in about ever two weeks for 5 to 8 hrs. Really helps to decompress but even with that I loose my temper when she complains that I leave her all the time, don't do this or that.. I do all routine house work, have someone evertwo weeks, laundry, cooking, almost all clean up after meals... it gets really tough, not really the work but the stress of never having time to my self.

    Reply

  4. January 26, 2017 at 4:11 pm | Posted by Lisa Badger

    The points that this article is making are so true. It imperative to do what this article is suggesting. I know from personal experience. My mother, who was my father's primary care taker, died suddenly, because she neglected her own health and refused any help from others. Please don't let this happen to your loved ones.

    Reply

  5. January 15, 2017 at 10:59 am | Posted by GayAnn Fox

    Thank you for this article. Simple, small steps can help. Taking 30 minutes to read in a favorite space. A manicure. Ordering a pizza delivered and watching part of a favorite movie. Sometimes we get so overwhelmed that we forget a small break daily can provide something to look forward to and relieve a bit of stress. We also need to trust others to be able to help such as siblings, or perhaps a friend who can sit for an hour or two.

    Reply

    • January 26, 2017 at 9:04 pm | Posted by Evelyn McGee

      I was caregiver for my husband for 3 years. I did hire help from 9 to 3 in the day time so I could do necessary things away from home, but after 3 he was all mine. It was so hard seeing him go down daily and I could do nothing to stop it. I did maintain my membership in the Red Hat Society and one political lunch monthly. I still went to church on Sunday but couldn't continue the jobs I had in the church. The day after my husband died, I found that a routine test showed I needed heart surgery. After a battery of tests I had that surgery a month after he died. Then 7 weeks after that, I had a stroke. All of this, of course, kept me away from what little "life" I had away from home. I've lost connections with so many people and so many things it is pitiful. I have no regrets, though. He would have done the same for me. I always told him "I married you for better or worse and this is worse." When I went through the "empty nest syndrome" after the kids grew up, I took art classes, and just loved them. I'm going to look for a class soon. I still have Red Hat, my church, my political group, and will be seeking out other things to do which will interest me and get me in touch with more people. That will also help me as I go through the grief period. My husband was worth the care I gave him.

      Reply

    • January 27, 2017 at 1:02 pm | Posted by R ose

      I too take care of my husband have been for five years now,my husband doesn't want anyone else to care for him ,he gets upset if I even mention someone coming to sit with him so I can have some time for myself,I just don't know what to do he don't understand that I need some time to myself he said he can stay at home by his self but he can't walk without falling so I stay I bring him to dailysis for 6:50 am pock him up bathe him housework clinch appointments I do it all any suggestions for me.

      Reply

      • November 6, 2017 at 6:42 pm | Posted by Lois Gelfand

        Introduce a new carrier gradually. Don't leave them alone until you find someone you are both comfortable with and who had spent enough time with both of you so that they know what they need to do. It might take a while before you have time to yourself, but it will be less stressful to everyone when it happens.

        Reply

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