Protecting Your Health While Caring for a Loved One
Family caregivers commonly make their senior loved one’s needs a high priority. Caring for the older adult’s health and well-being can consume a large part of a caregiver’s day. As the senior’s needs increase, caregivers may experience increasingly high levels of stress and often begin to neglect their own health.
While putting the senior first is noble, it can cause the caregiver to suffer a health crisis of their own. Adopting healthy habits might seem like too much work when time is short, but the payoff is a healthier caregiver who is better equipped for the role.
5 Healthy Self-Care Habits for Family Caregivers
Here are five steps family caregivers can take to stay healthy:
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- Eat a balanced diet: A well-balanced diet is the foundation for maintaining good health. While the stress of caring for a loved one might make you want to reach for sugary or salty comfort foods, try to do so only in moderation. Plan, prepare, and freeze healthy meals a week or two at a time. If your senior loved one is able to help, consider including them in the process, whether through researching new recipes or providing hands-on help with cooking.
- Exercise: Physical activity is another cornerstone of a healthy caregiver lifestyle. Walking, swimming, yoga, and Pilates are all forms of exercise that also help to reduce stress. You might find ideas for fitness activities you and your loved one can do together at Go4Life, an exercise and physical activity campaign for seniors developed by the National Institutes of Health’s National Institute on Aging.
- Seek preventative health care: Busy caregivers might be tempted to skip or delay important health screenings and tests of their own. An annual physical, vaccinations, mammograms, and cholesterol testing are preventative health practices that can catch small problems before they become big ones.
- Laugh: Enjoying a good laugh with friends and family is a great way to reduce caregiver stress. That’s because laughter reduces the stress hormone cortisol while also increasing the feel-good chemical dopamine. Whether it is a monthly night out with friends or a funny TV show, try to find ways to laugh often.
- Ask for help: Caregivers are often reluctant to seek or accept help. Give yourself permission to do both. Taking a break should be a routine part of your caregiving plan. Remember, you can’t give what you don’t have. That means if you become sick or burned out, you won’t be able to care for your loved one at all.
If you’re getting worn out by the demands of caregiving, you might need a few days to yourself. Whether it is to take a short vacation or just to enjoy a pedicure or massage, a short-term stay at a senior living community may be your solution and in the long run will strengthen your ability to be a good caregiver. Learn about respite care at Sunrise to see how we can help.