Caregiving for an aging family member is no small feat. It’s a herculean role – often without the hoopla of gratitude, recognition and rewards. Anyone in a perpetual caregiving role knows the toll it can take – the physical, emotional, and often financial strain it can create. And yet not doing it… not providing the best you can for a loved one is unthinkable.
And so caregivers soldier on.
If this is you – one of many vertebrae in the invisible backbone of the health care system, here are a few things you need to know. First and foremost, you are a hero. Perhaps an underappreciated, underpaid, unsung hero – but nonetheless – a hero! Second, you are not alone. According to a 2013 Statistics Canada study, more than 28 per cent of Canadians are in caregiving roles and this number continues to grow exponentially as our population ages. Third, you need to look after yourself first. You’ve heard it dozens of times – including every time you’ve boarded an airplane: “Ensure that you secure your own oxygen mask before assisting others.” It’s that simple – take care of yourself first; take care of your loved ones second.
Caregiving is depleting. Sleep, nutrition and exercise are essential to maintaining your health. Get creative if you must, for instance: take naps when your loved one naps, take the time to cook and share healthy meals, locate indoor tracks and outdoor pathways that can accommodate you pushing a wheelchair.
Caregiving is stressful. Take up calming activities like meditation, yoga or qigong. Read entertaining or enlightening material. Listen to soothing music. Watch comedy programs instead of serious dramas.
Caregiving has garnered international attention. There are all kinds of networks, societies, and coalitions designed to provide you with helpful tools and information. Find them and plug into them.
Caregiving is common. Join a support group where you can meet others in a similar situation. Look into home support, placement programs, daybreak programs and other seniors’ assistance programs.
Caregiving is a shared role. You should not be operating in isolation. Ask for and graciously accept all the help you can get.
Family, friends, work and hobbies are all essential aspects of your life. Don’t put your happiness or your priorities on hold. Right now, no matter what else is going on, the quality of your life matters.
In summary, to be an effective caregiver and also stay well you need: (a) air, (b) plenty of self-enrichment and (c) heaps of support.