Six ways for family caregivers to take care of their own health

About eight million Canadians provide care to family members or friends with a long-term health condition, a disability or problems associated with aging, according to a 2013 Statistics Canada study. Among those from age 45 to 64, approximately half care mainly for an aging parent.

Caregiving can be rewarding and can help the person being cared for immensely. However, the study found that among people providing care for at least two hours a week, 60 per cent of those caring for a parent and 74 per cent of those caring for a spouse reported signs of psychological distress.

Elderly careMany studies have shown caregivers are at risk for mental and physical health problems, according to Journals of Gerontology, and the intensity of care is associated with a greater impact on caregiver health. Stress levels are proportional to the number of tasks performed, intensity of responsibilities, and apparent lack of choice and alternatives in taking on responsibilities, says the Canadian Research Network for Care in the Community.

Caregivers with high levels of strain are almost two times more likely to die within five years than those reporting some strain. Fortunately, there is strong evidence that taking steps to reduce caregiver strain and lessen the load can improve both the mental and physical health of family caregivers, says Journals of Gerontology.

Here are six ways to take good care of your health and reduce caregiver strain, thus positively impacting the health of your loved one, too:

1. Look after your own physical needs. Eat healthy, exercise regularly and get enough sleep. See your family doctor, or other healthcare professionals, if you have stress symptoms.

2. Stay connected with others. Spend time with family and friends, talk with people who have had similar experiences, or try a support group.

3. Make time regularly for activities you enjoy.

4. Explore stress reduction techniques like yoga, tai chi, meditation and deep breathing exercises.

5. Be realistic about what you can and cannot do daily. Ask for help from family and friends, and use caregiver services.

6. Consider respite care for your loved one. Short-term relief for caregivers can give you time away to rest, or for things you want or need to do, like taking a vacation.

Taking care of your own health actually helps you be a better caregiver for your loved one, too. You’ll have more energy and be more relaxed caring for them. You can’t help your loved one when you yourself are sick or ill as a result of stress.

Many Chartwell retirement residences across Canada offer short stays for convalescence or to trial what it’s like to live in a retirement home. Use Chartwell’s “Find a Residence” search feature on their website to find the closest retirement community and inquire about their short stay program for your loved one.