Caring for a spouse or loved one who is aging or has chronic health conditions can put that labor of love to the test.
Family caregivers often neglect their own well-being according to the Family Caregiver Alliance (FCA). It’s not only physical health at risk, either. It’s not uncommon for caregivers to develop symptoms of depression over time.
Caregivers need to practice self-care, and consider these 7 recommendations, so their own health doesn’t become compromised.
1. Monitor your stress and state of mind.
Know your own stress triggers and watch out for warning signs that you’re struggling. And keep an eye out for signs of depression, which can include feelings of hopelessness, overwhelming sadness, listlessness, and fatigue. A study in the Journals of Gerontology found that depression rates tended to increase over time among spouses who had a couple of chronic conditions that needed various types of special care.
2. Keep up with your own care.
Don’t skip your own health care appointments or neglect to take any medications while caring for your loved one.
You might argue that you just don’t have the time to exercise but it is critical to physical and mental well-being. The American Heart Association recommends that most adults get 2.4 hours of moderately intense exercise or 1.25 hours of vigorous exercise per week. This can include brisk walking, jogging, biking or other activities that get your heart rate elevated.
4. Watch what you eat.
Neglecting your own dietary needs won’t help you take better care of your spouse. The American Heart Association suggests embracing whole grains, fruits, vegetables, low fat dairy, and lean sources of protein, but your doctor may make more specific recommendations, based on your health needs.
Sleep deprivation can affect your mood, your ability to concentrate, your judgment, and your energy levels. According to the National Sleep Foundation, adults need an average of seven to eight hours of sleep per night, so keep track to ensure you can remain an effective caregiver.
6. Ask for and accept help.
Develop a network of trusted friends and other relatives to whom you can turn. When those friends or other relatives ask, “What can I do?” have an answer ready for them!
7. Plan for respite care.
If you don’t have a friend or family member who’s available to step in, look into hiring a professional for a few hours here and there.
The NIA has online resources for caregivers, including specific guidance on caring for people with dementia and caring for a loved one from a distance.
BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee members can access wellness-related discounts on fitness products, gym memberships, healthy eating and more through Blue365®. BCBST members can also use tools and resources to help improve health and well-being by logging into BlueAccess and going to the in the Member Wellness Center under the Managing Your Health tab.