Lifestyle

Caregivers need TLC, too

By PAM McGAFFIN

For the Mirror

Family and friends, not health professionals, provide most of the long-term care of this country’s sick or disabled. Without the support of loved ones, many older adults wouldn’t be able to stay in their homes.

Helping a husband with Alzheimer’s or a mother with cancer can be physically and mentally draining, which is why caregivers need to take care of themselves too, says the Healthy Aging Partnership.

HAP, a coalition of more than 30 Puget Sound-area organizations –– including King County –– dedicated to the health and well-being of older adults, advises caregivers to maintain healthy living habits and ask for help when the burden gets to be too much.

Most informal caregivers are women. Research shows that women who care for an ill or disabled spouse are more likely to suffer from depression, anxiety, stress and physical health problems.

But the sacrifice doesn’t stop there.

Working women who provide home care often are forced to quit or retire early, decrease work hours or pass up promotions and other opportunities.

At the same time, they fill a huge need. According to one report, 65 percent of older people who need long-term care get it exclusively from family and friends.

The value of the informal care provided by women has been estimated at $148 billion to $188 billion annually.

Caregivers might bear that in mind the next time they’re inclined to ignore their own needs because they’re so intent on meeting those of another. HAP offers the following advice:

• Take care of your own health. Eat nutritious meals, get enough sleep and take time to exercise, even if you need to find someone else to provide care for an hour or two.

• Get regular medical checkups, and make an appointment right away if you are experiencing sleep disturbances, suicidal thoughts and/or feelings of extreme sadness, hopelessness and apathy. Those might be signs of depression, a clinical illness that is serious and treatable.

• Maintain a social network of family and friends you can talk to about your feelings and frustrations. Isolation only compounds stress and depression.

• Make a list of things you need –– home repairs, help with driving and chores, a breather –– and ask friends, neighbors and other family members to pitch in.

• Resentment can feed a cycle of anger and guilt. Try to focus on your strengths and accomplishments, and deal constructively with the causes of your anger.

• Call on services in the community, including hospice care, home and personal care, respite care, meal and transportation services, adult day centers and senior centers.

• Look into Medicare, Medicaid and long-term care insurance to help pay for services.

For more information on how to handle caregiving issues, as well as other topics related to life as an older adult, call 1-888-435-3377 or visit the Healthy Aging Partnership Web site at www.4elders.org.

HAP is supported by its partner agencies, including the Seattle- King County Public Health Department and the Comprehensive Health Education Foundation.

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