Who Cares for the Caregiver?

Being the main provider of care to an elderly or disabled loved one is a vocation that can be simultaneously rewarding, frustrating, joyful, depressing and life affirming. While you are focused on providing the best possible care and support, it can also be physically and emotionally draining for you, the carer.
There are plenty of resources out there and people offering advice on how to take care of your senior family member, and enrich their quality of life. The trouble is, as the primary carer, you can end up feeling like an extension of the person to whom you are providing care. So who will take care of the carer?
The risks to the carer
The sad truth is that if you don’t look after yourself, nobody else is likely to. It is easy to convince yourself that you do not have time to deal with your own needs, or to feel guilty about doing so.
But in truth, how often have you heard a caregiver say that their wife or husband is the one with the medical problem, yet they themselves ended up in hospital? Research by the Family Caregiver Alliance made the shocking discovery that if you are a caregiving spouse aged 66 or above, you are at a 63 percent greater risk of dying than someone of the same age who is not a caregiver.
The problem is not limited to the elderly. Many baby boomers are now taking care of a dependent parent while trying to hold down a job and other commitments. The result? Burnout, stress, sleep deprivation and health problems.
Barriers to looking after yourself
From the perspective of an impartial observer, it seems like a no brainer that the caregiver needs to take care of his or her own mental, physical and psychological needs, both for their own sake and to provide the best possible care to their loved ones. Yet when we are in the eye of the storm, it is not always that simple.
It is easy to convince yourself that you are the only one who can take proper care of your loved one, or that you will in some way be letting them down or being selfish if you take any time out for yourself.
Be objective
Ultimately, it is critically important to take an objective view. If you do not take care of yourself, the ultimate effect will be as harmful to your loved one as it will be to you – you will not be able to provide the best care, and will feel tired, irritable and maybe even resentful.
There is plenty of help and support available – make the best use of it, to make your loved one’s senior years a time to treasure for both of you.