I frequently speak to groups made up of family members and loved ones of people with serious mental illnesses. I always tell them the same thing:
The best caregiver takes care of himself first!
Here are some additional insights:
It’s estimated that 25 million Americans are primary caregivers for an elderly or chronically ill relative. Most never planned on assuming the role, but circumstances changed their plans. If you are in, or are contemplating, such a role, your success and happiness will directly relate to the awareness you bring to the situation.
Consider these suggestions:
-Identify and do those things that make you feel healthy and well, including social occasions and physical exercise.
-Take advantage of opportunities for respite care and time alone when someone else is in charge at home.
-Before you make the commitment to be a caregiver, prepare for potential lifestyle changes (work schedules, social life, money and resources) and honestly evaluate your readiness.
-Learn all that you can about your loved one’s illness and physical/mental capabilities.
-Read material offered by doctors and ask questions.
-Read books from the library and check out online resources so that you fully understand the details and potential changes in your loved ones health.
-Understand what the future holds before you commit to taking it on.
-You are a member of your loved one’s health care team. Your role is more important than anyone else’s. Speak out on your loved one’s behalf.
-Keep notes and logs of medications, symptoms, behavior changes, sleep and eating habits and cognitive skills. Use it to refresh your memory when speaking with doctors.
-Prepare your loved one’s Personal Health History and take it with you as you accompany him to appointments. Make sure his doctor is aware of what’s on it.
-The ability to make decisions is a basic freedom, so provide choices whenever possible–where to live– which cereals to eat–what to wear.
-Respect your loved one’s right to make decisions about his life, and help him maintain a sense of control and privacy whenever possible.
-Listen to what he has to say, and pay attention to his worries and concerns.
-Provide help on your HIS terms, not yours. Tasks like dressing and bathing are personal and private.
-Encourage your loved one to retain as much control over his life as possible.
-Be understanding. Keep in mind that most people feel frustrated or unfairly burdened at some point.
-If your loved one is still capable of performing certain activities, encourage him to do so.
-Encourage any effort at independence, no matter how small.
-Avoid treating your loved one like a child.
-Take advantage of the help that’s available.
-Your family is your first resource. Let them know what they can and should do.
-Look to your religious community for aid and counsel.
-Attend caregiving support groups, or support groups for specific illnesses like Alzheimer’s, mental illness or heart disease.
-Encourage friends and family to visit and interact whenever they can.
By following these guidelines, you will maintain your own health, both physical and mental, while providing loving care to the person in your charge.