Right now, according to the Gallup Organization, more than one in six American workers (people with full-time or part-time jobs) does some sort of a second shift as a caregiver for a family member or a friend. Those numbers are moving in one direction and one direction only – up. That’s because between the years 2000 and 2030 the number of people age 65-plus in America will more than double to 71.5 million. If you – like Carolyn – are among the caregivers, one thing you’ll quickly come to understand is that it can take a toll. At work, according to The National Alliance for Caregiving and AARP, 70 percent of those caregivers face issues ranging from the not-so-drastic like having to rearrange their schedules to the quite-drastic like retiring early or turning down a promotion. At home, there are often budgetary issues. And, as a result of stress, it’s not uncommon for the health of the caregiver to take a turn for the worse. Here are a few suggestions for caring for yourself while you care for your loved ones:
- Make sure you’re getting all the financial aid you can. Yes, it’s a concept we usually apply to paying for college. But there are many government programs on the local, state and federal level that you may be eligible for. The place to start is with a trip to two websites: benefits.gov and benefitscheckup.org. You’ll need to answer questions on both sites about the health of the older person as well as any disabilities, income, net worth, property ownership, military service, etc. But it’s worth going through the routine both times as the list of programs you qualify for may be different.
- Take your own temperature. We’re often pretty good at spotting stress when it shows up in a loved one – and pretty bad when we’re the ones in its grasp. If you’ve noticed (or a spouse or friend has commented) that you seem down, tired or cranky, you may be suffering from stress. Not sleeping as much as usual or getting sick more than you typically do are also signs. It’s important to get help sooner rather than later. This can mean finding someone to talk to yourself or looking for ways to take the pressure off by, say, offloading some of the caregiving tasks to others who are either willing or can be paid to help.
- Exercise and stay otherwise healthy. Taking on the job of caring for someone else is the excuse many people need to stop taking physical care of themselves. Don’t let yourself fall into that trap. One way to make sure you continue to exercise is by scheduling a workout with a partner; you’ll show up because you don’t want to leave her (or him) waiting. Another solution is to schedule it in your calendar as if it were a business meeting.
- Get help if you need it. If it’s clear that the level of care needed is more than you can handle, consider hiring a geriatric care manager. These professionals can help you come up with a written plan to take care of the older or ill person in your life – and then put it into action. To find a care manager, go to the website of the National Association of Professional Geriatric Care Managers at www.caremanager.org.