March is Parent Awareness Month. Sometimes we find ourselves back in a parenting role as caregivers for our elderly parents. A few years ago, I cared for my 80-year-old dad after my mom had died. As a working, married mother with a husband and two young children, and enrolled in online graduate school, I had many days that were emotionally and physically draining. Before he died, we shared many days that included both laughter and tears. This time also included many days filled with frustration and difficult decisions about his caregiving needs. I was fortunate to have support from family and friends to talk about caregiving issues and options. With this support and knowledge, my dad and I talked about all the options and decided on the best solutions for his needs.
In home Health Care, we see many caregivers that often find themselves in similar situations. They try to focus all their attention on their loved one and neglect their own concerns. We know that being a caregiver can be both physically and emotionally draining and may lead to frustration and possible elder abuse. Here are a few tips to help caregivers care for themselves.
Give yourself permission to take a daily "mini" vacation such as a walk around the block, talking to a friend, listening to music or writing in your journal. These added activities help to renew you and lift your spirits. Set manageable expectations and limits for yourself. Be realistic about what you can do and what you can not. It's OK to accept help from friends and families if they offer it; don't be afraid to say yes or no when you need to. Getting enough sleep is very important. Lack of sleep can lead to carelessness, decreased tolerance for frustration and depression. Take advantage of opportunities to get in a nap, rest with your feet up or just sit quietly when you can. Remember to eat well and exercise; good nutrition and physical activity help you to better cope with stress and prevent illness. Learn about community resources available for caregivers such as support groups, adult day care providers; private duty caregivers; housekeeping services; or home delivered meal programs. Maybe the use of additional services would help you to meet your caregiving needs. Establish or maintain a good relationship with your parent's health care provider. They can be a valuable resource for health care information and support.
Become familiar with the different options for long range planning and living arrangements. Find out about available housing options such as senior apartments, assisted living facilities or nursing homes. Contact your local home health care nursing agencies as they may have answers for you about caregiving questions, or give you information about other resources that might fit your needs. Try to use these tips to take care of yourself. Preventing your own frustration is just as important as taking care of your parent. Remember, caregiving may be one of the most difficult jobs you ever have to do, but it also is one of the most rewarding. Some of the most memorable days that my children still talk about are those they experienced when "grandpa" was at our house.
For more information, call Aspirus Keweenaw Home Health and Hospice at 337-5700.
Editor's note: Gladys Polzien, RN, MSN, CHPN, is the director of operations at Aspirus Keweenaw Home Health and Hospice.