Senior Living Q & A: Coping with caregiving

Q. My husband’s health is declining and I now find myself in the role of caregiver. Although I love him dearly, there are times when I feel very stressed and resentful of this new role. Do you have any suggestions to help me cope better?

In this time of New Year’s resolutions, here are eight resolutions for you to choose from:

Take care of your own health. Family caregivers are less likely to eat well, have regular medical checkups and get enough exercise. This leads to increased risk of depression, high blood pressure and heart disease. This year, resolve to schedule your annual checkup and screenings, and follow your healthcare provider's wellness instructions.

Take some time for yourself. Caregivers may become so focused upon the requirements of their loved one's care that they lose sight of their own needs. Give yourself permission to focus on yourself.

Ask others for help — and be specific. Friends and other family members are often eager to lend a hand, but probably need input from you about the best ways to help.

Learn to say no. As your caregiving workload has grown, have you reassessed the other areas of your life? Are you still hosting the family holiday celebration? Serving on a committee at your faith community? Take stock of your life to decide which activities you truly enjoy and which ones add to your stress. Explain to others that your caregiving duties make it impossible to keep up some of your normal activities at this time.

Take care of your back. A recent study showed that family caregivers who provide hands-on care for disabled loved ones are at greater risk of back injury. Ask your healthcare provider to instruct you in safe lifting practices and learn about assistive home equipment.

Spend more time with others. Caregivers often report feeling lonely and isolated. Spend more time with old friends and at favorite social gatherings. Consider joining a local support group where you can communicate about feelings and experiences with others who share your situation.

Laugh a little every day. Humor promotes physical, emotional and cognitive wellness. Laughter lowers stress, relieves tension and even boosts the immune system. Watch comedies on TV and funny videos on YouTube, or read humor publications.

Enlist professional help. The first seven resolutions are all great ideas. But how can busy caregivers carve out enough respite time to take better care of themselves? For many families, professional in-home care is the ideal way to give families a break and help their loved one thrive at home. In-home caregivers can take over many time-consuming and challenging caregiving tasks, including physical assistance for your husband, such as bathing, dressing, shaving, transferring from bed to chair, incontinence care and toileting. Cut down on the time you spend doing housework by hiring a cleaning service.

Your husband depends on you for care. Taking care of yourself helps you be a better caregiver. Resolve to make 2012 a happier, healthier year for the whole family.

NANCY TURNEY received a bachelor's degree in social work and a certificate in gerontology. If you have a specific question you would like answered in this column, email it to or call Turney at the Crescenta-Cañada YMCA, (818) 790-0123, ext. 225.

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