Taking Care of Yourself When You're a Caregiver

Today I’m super excited to share some self-care tips for a very special group of people: Caregivers.

These are the generous people who are taking care of our elderly, individuals with disability or illness.

Are you currently acting as a caregiver, or is there someone close to you who is acting as a caregiver?

This blog is for you.

Nina Fleckenstein is volunteer trainer for Powerful Tools for Caregivers, a U.S. national program that teaches self-care practices specifically to caregivers. She’s also my mother, and worked for 44 years as a Registered Nurse. She knows a lot about self-care!

Below she offers her tips and strategies for keeping yourself healthy while caring for others.

What first got you interested in the Powerful Tools program?

There was a flyer at the library for a workshop for grandparents who are raising their grandchildren, and I thought, “I could help out with that.” I called the organizer, Loriann McNeill, the Family Caregiver Support Program Coordinator with Multnomah County, in Portland, Oregon. I helped her with that workshop as one of several volunteers, and then she asked for my help with Powerful Tools.

Based on what you’ve heard from caregivers in your classes, what are the biggest challenges that they face in terms of their own well-being? 

Typically they are too busy caring for others and not taking enough time to care for themselves.

What are the top 2-3 ways for caregivers to stay healthy while taking care of others?

1)    Set intentions to take care of yourself. Find activities that are doable and enjoyable.

2)    Seek out resources for caregiver support (more on that later).

3)    Take care of your own physical health and make sure you go to your own medical appointments.

If you could pick just one piece of advice to give caregivers, what would it be?

Find something that will sustain you, some kind of joy that is your own. Such as taking a walk, going out into the garden with a cup of tea, taking a painting class, or going away for the weekend. Be sure to do something regularly that will refresh and revive you.

What do you say to caregivers who say that they just don’t have time to take care of themselves?

It will catch up with you. Neglecting your self-care is very similar to not maintaining your home or your car. If you don’t maintain yourself or the things around you they will eventually go into decay.

What’s the most surprising or important thing that you’ve learned so far from your participants?

Participants are eager to learn and to be heard. Meeting regularly with a group of people going through the same thing is a real source of support and inspiration.

For example, one woman in our group shared that she was already doing most of the activities that we were talking about. She was taking art classes, exercising and doing a lot of self-care on her own. She was a real inspiration to others that this was possible.

Another man really has his hands full with his care-giving duties. Since joining the group, he’s really come to appreciate the support. He says, “I come because this is my action plan for the week. I want to come here to learn from you guys.”

How can family members or good friends support someone who is a caregiver?

It would be helpful to first hold a family meeting. If the care receiver is capable, he or she should attend and be involved. The whole family should participate and feel free to contribute to the agenda, especially the primary caregiver.

Family and friends should find out what kind of care would be most helpful to the caregiver, so that he or she can have some free time. Because if the caregiver doesn’t take care of herself, she’s going to get sick.

Is there anything else that’s important to add?

If you’re a caregiver, don’t stop seeking information about how to take care of yourself, because there is help available.

What resources can you recommend to people who’d like to learn more?

Powerful Tools for Caregivers

Eldercare.gov

AARP

Your state and county services

Savvy Caregivers (provided by various agencies around the country)

Support groups – check with your local senior center as a start

For dementia or Alzheimer’s concerns, call the Alzheimer's Association helpline at 1.800.272.3900

Family Caregivers support program