It’s an oft-ignored concept by caregivers, yet it remains so important. When you do not properly care for yourself, how can you properly care for a parent? Whether you are independently or jointly caring for your aging parents, you must remember to also care for yourself.
When you are not mindful of your own health, your body and mind wear down. You become prone to increased sickness, reduced sleep, decreased appetite, and many other associated symptoms of not caring for yourself properly.
Caring for yourself as a caregiver is defined as taking respite: Book and commit to your own time away from your caregiving responsibilities. One colleague of mine makes it a habit to regularly stop in the park on his way home from the office. He finds that when he does this, he can leave the stressors of his concrete jungle behind and not take them back home to his family. He can more easily move from being a busy executive to a loving husband and father with a short, relaxing break in between the two. Smart thinking!
Although you may well be tempted to try and “do it all” for your mother or father, always remember your own needs and interests. You have your own work, family, friends, outside interests, and so on … the key here is to give yourself a balance. You should never feel guilty or selfish for seeking respite time.
Note that your own respite can take a variety of forms. You can either temporarily remove yourself or remove Mom or Dad so as to concentrate on other things. Respite time does not have to be lengthy or expensive. Consider the following ideas:
- Read a book. How long has it been since you got lost in a book? Curl up in your favourite armchair with the author of your choosing. Get swept up in a romance, follow the clues in a murder mystery, or ride along the dusty trails in a western. One of the best things about a book (or an e-book) is its portability. You can take one anywhere (e.g., a lawn chair in your back yard or while waiting for your parent’s doctor’s appointment).
- Go for coffee with a friend. Remember to socialize while you are a caregiver! Meet a friend or two for coffee. It will help you to steer the conversation away from your own caregiving duties. Get your mind on other things: debate climate change, discuss the latest news headlines, and play armchair quarterback and analyze your favourite football team’s performance.
- Place Mom or Dad in a day program. These programs are typically offered through local hospitals and/or senior associations. Here, qualified staff will occupy your parent with activities giving you much-needed respite time. Transportation to and from day programs may be provided. Contact your provincial health board to learn of the availability of these types of respite programs in your area.
- Take a nap. Stretch out on your couch at home and catch up on your sleep, any time of day. If you are worried about over-sleeping, just set an alarm clock to ring in an hour or so. I have, in the past, used my microwave oven timer to arouse me from my own mini slumbers.
Caregiver’s Guide for Canadians is available in our Web store where you can preview content from the book and view the complete table of contents.