SHERIDAN — If you are caring for someone who is ill, frail or when the daily activities of living have become a struggle for them, you are a caregiver. Caregiving can be as simple as helping someone get ready for bed or preparing or getting them connected with meals or even bathing.
Caregivers care for their spouse, their parents, their adult child, a friend or a neighbor with meals, transportation, remembering appointments or even medication management.
“What I see is that oftentimes a spouse thinks ‘I’m just the husband’ or ‘I’m just the wife,’” said Stella Montano, director of Family Caregiver Support Services at the Sheridan Senior Center. “They don’t see themselves in a caregiver role. But their loved one’s needs have gone way beyond being able to do for themselves.”
But as your loved one’s needs increase, so does the demand on your time and energy…and on your health.
“Caregivers always tend to put their loved ones first,” Montano said.
Montano is passionate about supporting the caregivers in their role. This includes teaching caregivers to take care of themselves.
“I like to use the analogy when you’re traveling and you’re on a plane,” said Montano. “The flight attendants will tell you that in the case of an emergency and should the oxygen masks deploy, you are told to put your mask on first before taking care of anyone around you. The same goes for caregiving. If you don’t take care of yourself, you’re not able to take on the demands of caregiving.”
Montano has seen time and again when demands of caregiving have taken their toll on caregivers’ health sometimes to the point of hospitalization.
She offers the following five tips for a survival toolbox for caregivers.
Your first tool? Accept help. Have a list of ways others can help you. Someone may be willing to sit with your loved one for a couple of hours while you take a break or run much needed errands. Ask them to pick up groceries or accept an offered meal. It’s important to focus on what you are able to provide and know that you are doing the best you can. No one is perfect so let go of that guilt that you are not doing enough.
A second important tool for a caregiver: set realistic goals. Break large tasks into smaller steps that you can do one at a time. Prioritize, make lists and establish a daily routine. When you have a routine, those helping you will know your routine.
Tool No. 3: Get connected. Find out about resources in your community that can help you. In Sheridan, the Senior Center offers transportation, Day Break Adult Day Care, adaptive equipment, home delivered meals, housekeeping, personal care and respite services. Call the Senior Center at 672-2240 for specifics.
Don’t underestimate the value of support groups. This is Tool No. 4. Participants know what you’re going through. They can validate your reality, provide encouragement, and help with valuable problem solving.
And Tool No. 5? Montano encourages caregivers to set personal health goals.
“Set regular appointments to see your doctor,” said Montano. “Make sure you let your doctor know that you are a caregiver.” If your doctor knows that you’re a caregiver, they can support your decision for using community support services.
Montano also recommends to caregivers to set some personal health objectives such as taking walks, listening to favorite music while you make dinner, staying hydrated and using whatever form of relaxation you may choose.
“Caregiving is not a sprint, it’s a long-distance run,” said Montano.
Stocking your metaphorical caregiving toolkit can support you as a caregiver as you care for and love another.