“Caregiving is everything we do to assist a friend or relative due to that person’s illness or disability, and that we do for our own health.” – Catalyzing Technology to Support Family Caregiving (2014), National Alliance for Caregiving
“Our own health” is the crucial part of that sentence. Establish a pattern of taking care of your own physical and mental health needs as well as those of your loved one. For example, don’t put off your yearly physical exam or neglect your morning walk because you feel too busy meeting your care recipient’s needs. Attend all regular check-ups and screenings. If you notice an issue, make an appointment right away so problems can be managed as quickly and effectively as possible. Martyrdom is overrated as a coping mechanism! If you failed to establish yourself as a co-priority early on, it’s never too late to start.
Take the Caregiver Self-Assessment to identify your risk factors and shed light on your needs.
If you find yourself regularly saying, “I’ll do it tomorrow…” when it comes to your own health, try putting it in writing. You have a care plan for the person with Parkinson’s, so make one for yourself, too. Lack of sleep, “compassion fatigue,” and exhaustion take a toll on all aspects of your health – physical, mental and emotional. Time for relaxation is a basic human need and a caregiver right. To continue giving effectively to the other person, you have to restore your own energy on a regular basis. Budget both time and money to focus on you.
Like the care plan, many of the things you do for your loved one apply to you, also:
- Prepare for your appointments with your healthcare providers. Keep a journal of how you are feeling and any health issues that arise. Make a list of questions and things you want to talk about. You can bring a friend or advocate with you to the appointment to help remember what was said and take notes.
- Eat well and exercise. A healthy diet and regular physical activity are as important for you as they are for your loved one.
- Learn to recognize the signs of depression, which can affect caregivers as well as people with Parkinson’s.
If you provide a lot of physical, hands-on assistance to your loved one, take particular care of your back. Ask a physical therapist for tips on lifting, and see if there are moving aids that can help you or the person with Parkinson’s.
Finally, recognize the signs of stress and find techniques to help you manage stress and also avoid the triggers, when possible. Ask yourself the following questions:
- How am I coping with these responsibilities?
- How would I describe my quality of life these days?
- How often do I get out?
- Do I have my own physician?
Discuss the answers with your personal healthcare provider or a counselor/therapist, and see the section on Caregiver Stress for more information and tips.