Caregivers: Take Care of Yourselves, Too

By: Dr. Juleen Rodakowski and Dr. Beth Fields

Caregiving most often becomes a role in life when a loved one experiences a major health event, such as a heart attack, stroke or accident. It may also begin when adult children start caring for an aging parent who shows changes in thinking and memory or ability to live safely in the community. Life changes. Free time is now spent helping a loved one.

Ultimately, being a caregiver becomes one of the many roles a person fulfills in their lifetime. November is designated as National Family Caregivers Month as a reminder that people will be better equipped to provide care for their loved ones if they remember to take care of themselves.

Caregivers can take the following steps to ensure that both they and their loved ones are well cared for:

Take time to learn about their loved one’s condition and what to expect with the condition in the future. The more you know in advance, the more you can plan ahead.

Utilize support services. Allowing others to assist results in less work for the caregiver. These common resources, in addition to many others, are available to help: Meals on Wheels, Support/social groups, Transportation services, Pennsylvania Area Agencies on Aging, Family Caregiver Alliance: National Center on Caregiving.

Keep up with their own personal health. Visit the doctor and receive routine exams, get sleep and exercise and eat healthy.

Relax and take breaks. Do something not related to caregiving, like going for a walk, meeting with friends or shopping.

Practice self-forgiveness. Caregiving is challenging and sometimes difficult decisions need to be made, but they are not wrong.

Visit the Caregiver Action Network website for additional information on caregiving and National Family Caregivers Month.

ABOUT THE AUTHORS: Juleen Rodakowski, O.T.D., is an assistant professor in the Pitt School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences Department of Occupational Therapy, and Beth Fields, Ph.D., is an advanced postdoctoral associate at the Pitt School of Medicine Health Policy Institute. Both are committed to findings ways to improve quality care for aging adults and their caregivers.