Ten Tips for Caregivers of Senior Citizens
by The Coping Counselors

If you are a caregiver for a senior citizen, you are undertaking an honorable, yet stressful, activity. Here are some tips to help you care for yourself as you continue to care for your senior citizen.

1. Be Knowledgeable

If you are caring for an individual that is ill, it will be important for you to have a good understanding about the illness itself, what to expect, and how you can best help them. By not knowing what the illness entails, how it might change over time, and what effects it may have, you may be making things much more difficult on yourself. Take advantage of resources around you, read some materials about the problem, and accompany your loved one to their doctor’s appointments. By being active in the process, you will be making a huge impact on their health.

2. Get Organized

Part of maintaining balance in your hectic life will be making sure you are organized. In addition to your other life responsibilities, you may be in charge of taking care of another individual’s finances, medical appointments, and paperwork. Make lists for yourself, so that you know what has to be done and when it needs to be completed by. Keep files for any records that need to be kept. Sometimes older individuals do not think about keeping their files current, and you might know that this would benefit them later. Recognize what tasks need to be completed on a daily basis and assign chores to those around you that are willing to help out. By being organized and efficient, much more will get done in a shorter period of time, and you won’t feel too stressed!

3. Recognize Your Limits

It will be important to realize that you cannot possibly accomplish everything, nor can you take on all the pressures and responsibilities that go into caring for your loved one. The first step in doing this is realizing how much you can do in a day, or in a week. Make lists for yourself and determine when each task needs to be completed by. By budgeting your time, you’ll realize how much can be done in each day without making yourself crazy. If you do not learn to recognize your limits and protect yourself, you may have regrets later. Set boundaries so that others know that they cannot take advantage of you or expect you to do more than you are able. Before you get to the point where you are over-exhausted (physically and mentally), recognize when it’s time to slow down or make some changes. Create a support team, create a schedule for yourself, and ask for help! Remember that you cannot possibly do this alone, especially if you also have other life responsibilities!

4. Create a Support Team

In accordance with recognizing your own limits, one possible alternative to over-extending yourself is creating a support team. This should include family members or friends that can be depended on and can share in the burden and responsibilities in caring for your loved one. This can include those that share in the grocery shopping, transportation, doctor’s appointments, and any other needs that you would have otherwise taken care of. Remember that you cannot do everything, as much as you’d like to, and engaging the help of others will make things much easier on you. The first step in creating a support team is making a list of those who might help. Then add to the list those specific things they can help with.

5. Be Realistic in Creating a Schedule

It will be best to create and maintain an easily manageable and realistic schedule for yourself, one that involves all the ingredients of your life (your family, your job, rest, enjoyment, your loved ones, etc) and one that won’t get you too overwhelmed. Budgeting your time will be very important. Any caregiver will tell you that it is a full-time job, one that can deplete your energy and your time. This can be very easy to fall into, and therefore it will be important to allocate your time so that you can balance out your life. Try not to be over-idealistic, because this could cause physical and emotional over-exhaustion. Remember, in order to help someone else, you first need to take care of yourself. (This includes your body and mind, as well as your other life responsibilities and loved ones.)

In creating a schedule, develop a routine that can be followed each day, but one that has flexibility and allows for sudden changes. (We all know that things just seem to “come up” on a daily basis, so a schedule that allows for these changes will be more beneficial and sanity-saving for you.) However, developing a routine can help others better understand ways to help you. If your “helpers” or “support team” knows that certain tasks happen at the same time each day or each week, they can expect when things will need to be done and give you a helping hand. The routine can help you and those around you establish boundaries so that you don’t over-exert yourself.

6. Don’t Be Afraid To Ask for Help

There are many people that openly admit they have difficulty asking for help. Some feel that this is a form of weakness, or an indication that they cannot handle the responsibilities they are given. On the contrary, asking for help is a sign of strength and recognizing one’s own limits. There are good people in the world, people that would be willing to help you with the responsibilities of caring for another person. Remember that many people don’t openly offer to help, simply because they may not feel like it’s their place to intervene or worry they might give the impression that you are not doing a good job on your own.

If you are having difficulty balancing your life, or if there are times you can’t be in two places at once, then perhaps it might be a good idea to ask someone else to help you out. If they prove to be reliable and they offer to help you in the future, add them to your support team and take them up on this offer. Lists will be very important in keeping yourself organized and sane! Make lists of those that are able and willing to help you with tasks, whether it’s picking up a prescription from the drugstore, sitting with your loved one while you run errands or take a break, or bringing your loved one to the doctor. Keeping these names in your head will only make you more confused and overwhelmed. If you know that certain people are dependable and willing to help, use this to your advantage, especially when you need it the most. The most important thing to remember, however, is recognizing what your limits are before you get to the point of exhaustion and frustration. Know when too much is too much and it’s time to ask for some help.

7. You Are Not Alone!

It will be important to remember that there are others that are in a similar position as you. They have taken on the burden and responsibility of caring for another human being, in addition to the responsibilities already present in their lives (spouse, children, job, friends, etc). There are resources out there to help people that are trying to juggle their life. Remember that you are only alone if you choose to be, and that there are people, organizations, and groups to help you get through it.

Some organizations offer respite care, which gives you a break and cares for your loved one while you go shopping, get some alone time, or take care of other life responsibilities. Other organizations provide support groups for caregivers, which offer emotional support and the sharing of experiences to those that have similar lifestyles. Believe it or not, experiencing such a support group can provide you with relief, knowing that there are other people out there, trying to do the same things that you are. You can share strategies, experiences, and tips that just might make the difference for you! There are Family Service Organizations and groups within churches or synagogues that can also provide either emotional or physical support. Remember, all you have to do is ask to find out about what services might be available to you. It might just be the thing that helps you the most!

8. Patience Is A Virtue!

Remember that things do not get better overnight, but through time and energy. You may not feel like you are making a difference as you struggle through each day, trying to balance everything in your life. Keep in mind that you are making a difference; you are helping the life of another human being that can love and depend on you, when perhaps nobody else will. You have taken on a wonderful, kind, and generous task, and while the rewards might not be immediate, it’s important to know that you’re doing a world of difference for another person. Be patient – soon enough you’ll see that what you’re doing is making a difference!

9. Take Care of Yourself

It is essential, if you are a caregiver to an elderly individual, that you take care of yourself. It will be nearly impossible for you to care for another being if you, yourself, are not being cared for. Be certain you are acquiring enough rest, eating balanced and regular meals, exercising regularly, and allowing time to de-stress. Be sure to make time for yourself and do the things you enjoy, such as going to the movies, having a night out, spending time with other loved ones, or engaging in hobbies that you enjoy. It might be important to learn stress management techniques to help you, even in the most difficult and trying of times.

10. Schedule Time for Yourself

While stress management, eating and exercising regularly, and getting enough rest are going to be vital in maintaining care for yourself, it’s going to be equally as important for you to schedule time for yourself. This doesn’t mean keeping it in the back of your mind to do something you enjoy when you have the chance, but rather schedule it in. This cannot be emphasized enough, because balancing yourself with the activities you enjoy will help you handle any issues or stress that comes your way. Engage yourself in activities that allow you to release energy, such as aerobics, running, bowling, or horseback riding. Take part in the hobbies that you enjoy, such as crafting, building, writing, or reading. Spend time with loved ones, if that causes you to be happy. Remember that it is essential for you to allow this time into your schedule so that you do not put your life on hold, rather, you are still enjoying every day to the fullest.

Congratulations on helping your caregiver. But remember, the best way to take care of others is to take care of yourself as well.

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