More than 40 million Americans care for someone aged 50 and older. Here is a blog post from one of our readers:
When I married my husband I never thought I would be one of them. It’s not something you can plan for because it never really enters your mind. We all think about taking care of a parent or grandparent in their golden years but never a spouse in the prime of their life. My husband was diagnosed with a neurological disorder that has left him disabled and unable to care for himself. And yet when it came to being his caregiver I was one of the lucky ones!
I had spent several months in my youth taking care of my elderly grandmother after her heart attack. I was all she had and moved in with her. So I at least knew what to expect when it came to taking care of another person’s health needs. But my grandmother was only going to be for a few months, my husband, as my wedding vow said “in sickness and in health”, is for the rest of my life. This presented a completely new set of challenges to me I was not prepared for.
As women we most often think of ourselves as superheroes. We can manage a job, kids, social life, finances, marital life and anything else life throws at us on a daily basis. Toilet backed up? No problem, plumber woman is here. The lights went out? Let me get my electrician’s gear and climb that pole to fix it. The same is also true for men who don’t know their own limits. But when you are placed in the position of having to care for a loved one this stress can quickly become overwhelming if you don’t take care of yourself first! So how do we do this when it seems like every day is over before it starts? Here are a few things I’ve found to be most important when it comes not only to his survival but mine as well.
Recognize the warning signs of stress early.
These can include insomnia, irritability, memory loss or like me, talking to your dogs as if they were your therapist.
Narrow down your sources of stress.
If you find that there is one particular thing you have to do during the day that keeps you up at night thinking about that’s a pretty good sign of something causing severe stress in your life.
Identify what you can change and what you can’t.
If having to pick your kids up from school every day stresses you because it’s at the same time the person you’re caring for needs a meal or a doctor’s visit or other attention then don’t try and do it all. Ask a friend if they can pick your kids up and remove that stress from you. Here are tips on how to ask friends and family for help.
Also take some time for yourself each day.
I’ve found that spending a half hour sitting in my backyard reading a book while my husband sleeps is the best half hour of my day. It re-energizes me and makes me a better caregiver.
Being a caregiver for a family member is a huge responsibility. But it isn’t all about taking care of that person and nothing else. Part of the responsibility is taking care of yourself. Keeping yourself strong so you can be the best caregiver you can be. I found that when I look at it from that perspective then the guilt I used to feel over putting myself first faded away because I was still doing it as part of my love and care for my husband.