November is National Family Caregivers Month. This month's Caregivers Blog has been reprinted from the 2011 Fall/Winter Parkinson Report, which, in honor of this special month, focuses on the caregiver.
Here’s an eye-opening statistic from the National Family Caregivers association: more than 29 percent of americans provide care for a chronically ill or disabled family member. Furthermore, about 23 percent of caregivers are age 65 or older. Certainly, if your spouse or loved one has a chronic illness like Parkinson’s, the time to begin preparing for this role is before disability or frailty becomes an issue. Jane Davis, who has been a caregiver for her husband for several years (see story on page 8), recognizes that caregiving is a tough job. That’s why she encourages all who care for others to stay committed to their own health and well-being from the very start.
- Surround yourself with support. For Davis, joining the WellSpouse™ association (www.wellspouse.org), a community of spousal caregivers, provided much needed support. “They tell me what I need to do now as well as how I should prepare for the future,” Davis said. “I could call them in the middle of the night, and they would listen, and that means the world to me.” Reach out to other people who are experiencing what you’re going through.
- Don’t give in to self-pity. It’s normal to be upset and even feel burdened when you first become a caregiver. That’s why you should give yourself time to adjust. “But don’t crawl in a hole and stay there,” Davis said. “You need to find ways to make life better, not only for your spouse but for yourself as well.” Start doing something you enjoy every day. If possible, join a yoga, tai chi or art class with your loved one. Find ways to stay connected and ease stress.
- Find a mentor. Realize that your role as caregiver will change over time and that it’s a continuous learning process. Having the guidance of someone who has already been through what you’re going through will have a positive impact on your life. By helping you face challenging situations and showing you how to rise above them, a mentor can help you stay strong. look for role models among people you know.
- Express yourself. “as a caregiver, bottling up your emotions can backfire,” Davis said. “Just cry, release it and move on. Then it doesn’t paralyze you and keep you stuck. But the key is to move on from it, because you can’t let those emotions encompass everything.” There’s no one best way to process your emotions, but try to figure out what will work best for you. That may be getting thoughts and feelings down on paper or talking them out with a therapist.
- Hire help. “You need to be there for your loved one, but you also need to maintain your own identity,” Davis said. “You have to make a conscious decision to live life.” Find someone to relieve you of your caretaking duties for a couple of hours a day or week. Then go do something that’s uplifting.