As we celebrate both National Alzheimer's Disease Awareness and National Family Caregivers Month this November, we pay homage to the unsung heroes who unselfishly and unconditionally provide top-notch care day after day after day. This is a tall order, indeed, considering the stressful nature of the job. In fact, it’s widely reported that Alzheimer's caregivers experience higher levels of stress.
It goes without saying that Alzheimer's caregivers are particularly susceptible to burnout. Feelings of overwhelm and frustration are not at all uncommon, as are exhaustion and discouragement. If left unchecked, these could result in a barrage of physical discomforts like headaches, chest pains, and stomach cramps, as well as pave the way for bad habits like smoking, excessive alcohol consumption, and compulsive eating.
Suffice it to say, in the same way that you take care of your loved one or patient, you should do the same for yourself. Doing so not only guarantees that you’re able to do your job well, but also helps you manage stress and boost your own quality of life in the process. Here’s how you can prioritize your own needs through self-care.
Take care of your health.
When working as a caregiver, you have to know that your health is just as important as your patient’s. Unfortunately, this is not being acknowledged enough, which is a common pitfall among caregivers.
Needless to say, if your health is far down your list of priorities, it might be high time to change your mindset. It’s a good idea to have a checklist of sorts to help you stay on track. One thing to account for is to make sure you are getting the right amount of nutrients for your body. This can come in the form of meal planning with healthier foods and filling in any nutrient gaps in your diet by taking multivitamins. In fact, multivitamins can do wonders for improving your energy levels, gut health, and even skin, so they’re great additions to your healthcare arsenal, along with a balanced diet and regular exercise.
Take care of your body.
Much of taking care of your health relies heavily on how well you take care of your body. As a caregiver, you are undoubtedly expected to be on your feet for hours on end, so physical exhaustion is inevitable. This makes exercise absolutely crucial as being fit will enable you to go the distance and meet the physical demands of the job.
Thankfully, the sky is the limit when it comes to exercise. Regular walking or hiking can be great additions to your routine, as are cycling or swimming. For more motivation, you can also consider joining a gym or fitness center. Seniors, in particular, have an edge as your Medicare Advantage coverage could make you eligible for Silver Sneakers, a wellness program that gives older adults access to gyms and fitness centers all over the country, which, in turn, allows you to take advantage of exercise classes like yoga and Zumba and partake in senior group activities. In addition to wellness programs, Medicare Advantage plans typically come with expanded benefits for vision, dental care and prescriptions.
Take care of your thoughts.
As demanding as being a caregiver is physically, no doubt it exacts an even higher toll mentally. It is important, therefore, to also take heed of your thoughts. As a rule of thumb, you need to be mentally prepared with a personal support plan in place to overcome the fatigue and isolation that often comes with the job. This means getting adequate knowledge and updating your skills, as well as talking to someone or joining a support group. Making use of relaxation techniques like breathing exercises and meditation also helps, as well as having a day-to-day routine.
Indeed, caring for someone with Alzheimer's is definitely not for the fainthearted. You are no doubt made of strong stuff—and you will only get stronger still through self-care and good habits. So hat’s off to you, this month and always!
Image Credit: Photo via Unsplash.com