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Caregiving: Taking care of you matters most

Last year, unpaid caregivers – mostly family members of aging seniors – provided billions of hours and millions of dollars worth of service. They did it all while also balancing work, children, spousal responsibilities and their social life. Now that families are getting smaller, and are also more spread apart geographically than ever before, often the lion’s share of the work falls on just one individual.

Caregiving brings with it a slew of challenges, from guilt about not providing enough care to financial struggles to total burnout, mentally and physically. That’s why many feel the first rule of caregiving is that one must take care of themselves first.

Burnout doesn’t just affect the caregiver, but also the person whom they are caring for. A burnt out caregiver is more likely to get ill, become depressed and even develop chronic illnesses. Their loved one will not receive good care when their caregiver is unhappy or ill.

Here are some tips on how caregivers can avoid burnout and maintain their own health, enabling them to be an effective caregiver for their loved one.

  • Regular exercise does wonders for energy levels and health. It’s difficult to fit it in, but you’ll be glad you did. Set aside 10 minutes a day to start and build from there. No need to buy a gym membership or join a marathon training group – just get outside and talk a walk. You’ll feel better in the long run.
  • Get enough sleep. Easier said than done, right? It truly is important though, for both health and emotional reasons. Even if getting the prescribed 8 hours isn’t possible every night, aim to get a full night’s rest at least once or twice a week to recharge.
  • Make time for you. Much like exercise and getting enough sleep, this is easier said than done, but when you start small, it is more manageable. Budget a half hour to do something you want to do, whether it’s reading a magazine, listening to music, or even taking a nap.
  • Go to your doctor regularly. Getting routine checkups are important in maintaining your health and in preventing serious illness. Your doctor can also talk to you if you are battling feelings of depression. Don’t try and be brave and tough it out – it’s not fair to you, your family or the loved one you’re caring for.
  • Consider a respite stay. Many senior living providers, including EPOCH, offer short-term stays for seniors being cared for by a family caregiver. The benefit is two-fold: the senior is cared for in a supportive environment and benefits from the social and health-related offerings at EPOCH, and the caregiver gets a much-needed rest from their duties.

If you’re a caregiver in Massachusetts or Rhode Island, consider one of EPOCH’s 14 communities for a short-term respite stay.

One last thing – If you’re a caregiver, you certainly have a lot of stories, good and bad, about your experiences. Shield HealthCare is holding a “What Makes Caregiving Rewarding?” story contest. Consider submitting your own thoughts – who knows, maybe you’ll win!

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