Self-care: Physical and Mental Health Tips for Senior Caregivers

By: June Duncan – Author of The Complete Guide to Caregiving: A Daily Companion for New Senior Caregivers

Tower Lodge Care Center thanks our friend, June Duncan, for submitting this article to us and we wish her well on the imminent publication of her upcoming book regarding Senior Care.

Caring for a senior requires a remarkable degree of selflessness and a level of commitment that many people find hard to understand. Ailing seniors require near-constant care. It’s a round-the-clock job that can easily undermine the caregiver’s health and wellbeing, and place considerable stress on one’s family and personal life. Many caregivers simply neglect their own health, spending hour after hour administering medication, changing bed clothes and providing companionship. The strain is physical, mental and emotional, a combination that can drain even the most energetic individual. If ignored over time, the strain can leave the caregiver in need of care.

It’s not uncommon for senior caregivers to neglect their own health as well as their emotional needs, and those of their children and spouses. Doctor visits are skipped and symptoms of illness are simply ignored. Caregivers are vulnerable to a spectrum of mental and physical conditions, ranging from infection and joint pain to diabetes and heart disease, which can include hypertension, high cholesterol and heart attack.

Care for the caregiver

Considering the physical toll and time spent caring for a senior, caregivers may be overwhelmed just taking care of the most basic health needs. Many simply ignore their own health, especially those who have no one to help them share the load or even take over for a few hours a week. If you provide care for a senior, you’ll be of little use if you allow your own health to degrade. Remember, there are some health concerns that are “non-negotiable” if you’re going to stay healthy enough to care for someone else.

Don’t neglect the essentials

If you’re not getting enough rest, you’re risking your own health and the wellbeing of the senior who relies on you to stay alert and responsive. Take every opportunity to nap when your loved one is asleep. This will help you manage the stress that comes with being a caregiver, and it’ll help ward off illness. You also need to eat a balanced diet and take the time to eat full meals rather than snacking just to stave off hunger. A half hour or so of indoor exercise, such as running in place or doing push-ups, several times a week is another good way of managing stress and staying energetic.

Active together

If you’re providing care for a senior with dementia, look for opportunities to engage in physical activity together. If you can get outside, you’ll both benefit from the fresh air and exercise. Start by taking a walk around the neighborhood, or maybe just a couple of laps up and down the street. Senior citizens transform shopping malls into convenient walking facilities every day, taking advantage of wide open space before stores open. People often don’t see gardening as a physical activity, but it can be a great way to stretch out while enjoying being outside. If getting out isn’t an option, you can always do stretching or isometric exercises while sitting.

Good mental health choices

Depression is a common problem among people who care for seniors, and it often goes unaddressed, leading to other issues like substance abuse. There are a number of options for caregivers who seek help for depression and many can be done individually. Mind-body techniques help relieve depression by uniting your thoughts, feelings and beliefs. Yoga, meditation, massage, journal writing and deep breathing techniques can all help you improve your mental state.

Caring for a senior with physical or mental health problems is a demanding role that requires stamina and emotional stability. Caregivers who don’t take care of themselves are likely to struggle in all kinds of ways, so it’s important for their own sake and that of their loved one to treat their bodies and minds well.

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