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Who Is Caring For the Caretaker?

Who Is Caring For the Caretaker?

By Harry Cline

An informal caretaker administers medical assistance to someone else on an unpaid basis – a child, spouse, neighbor, or church member helping another individual, usually a loved one.

There are more than 43 million Americans and 2.7 million Canadians who spend at least some of their time caring for a sick, disabled, or elderly family member.

So much of that care springs from simple kindness.

But devoting time and assistance to another person while also holding down a full-time job or juggling other obligations can be exhausting.

It’s important to make sure that even as you’re looking after your loved one, you’re also observing the all-important topic of self-care.  

Here are some tips to start:  

What is ‘Self-Care?’ 

Self-care” is something of a new buzzword that designates an ancient idea: In order to be kind to others, first be kind to yourself.

The full list of activities that you can do to promote self-care is almost endless. They might include acupuncture, getting a massage, turning off your phone or laptop, taking a picnic in the park with a friend, or being charitable.

What all these things have in common is that they help us feel whole, centered and focused. 

Diet

One of the most important ways that you can be good to yourself is to eat well.

If you want to sustain a healthy diet, stack your plates with fruits and vegetables. Include spices and herbs like cinnamon and ginger, which are great for sharpening memory and boosting heart health. Add in fiber like oat bran, almonds, and natural yogurt. Finally, consume smaller meals more often, rather than straining your digestive system with one gigantic dinner.

A surefire way to know that the food you’re eating is nutritious is to pay attention to how much color it has. The more vibrant a plate looks, the more nutritional variety it’s likely offering up. (Think of the sheer palette of some of the healthiest foods in the world – purple beets, yellow turmeric, red strawberries, green asparagus, and so on.) 

Sleep

Another cornerstone of self-care is sleep. Catching a solid eight hours improves your learning, lets you stay focused the next day, and helps you retain information.

Meanwhile, not sleeping can spike your blood pressure, and put you at risk for stroke, obesity, type 2 diabetes, and heart and kidney diseases. In a workaholic society like the US, sleep is often viewed as a dead time in our day when we could have been at the office. Sleep, however, is integral to life itself. You’ll feel much more revitalized when you’re awake if you spend enough time asleep. 

Healthy Medications

Stress can be so overwhelming that even eating well and sleeping enough sometimes can’t alleviate all the pressures weighing on you. When that happens, people can often turn to drugs and alcohol, because they grant us reprieve from worry and pain. But that reprieve is only temporary, and when the anxiety returns, it’s often more powerful than it was before.

That’s why it’s imperative that you never self-medicate with addictive substances. If you’re overwhelmed and find yourself turning to dangerous methods of coping, consult a physician and ask for help. He or she will evaluate if you’re at risk of alcohol or drug abuse, and find a course of treatment that will help you find solid ground. 

The fact that you are concerned for your elderly parent or your sick child is testament to your depth of empathy. But, as a caretaker, you need to take care of yourself, too. When the person you’re assisting sleeps, sleep in the room next to him. Feed them a healthy meal and then serve the same meal to yourself.

Try to create a soothing rhythm in your life that sustains you as you sustain others. 

Harry Cline is creator of NewCaregiver.org and author of the upcoming book, The A-Z Home Care Handbook: Health Management How-Tos for Senior Caregivers. As a retired nursing home administrator, father of three, and caregiver to his ninety-year-old uncle, Harry knows how challenging and rewarding caregiving can be.

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