Family caregivers provide a vital service: Part 2

Family caregivers provide a vital service and need to practice quality self-care to succeed.

As it was mentioned in part one of this series about the importance and value of informal family caregiving, caregivers often experience depression as well as physical health challenges. In a Family Caregiver Alliance 2006 report, Caregiver Assessment: Voices and Views from the Field Caring, it says that caring for persons with dementia can impact a person's immune system for up to three years after their caregiving experience ends, increasing their chances of developing a chronic illness themselves.

In the National Alliance for Caregiving and AARP 2009 report, Caregiving in the U.S., it states that 17 percent of caregivers feel their health in general has gotten worse as a result of their caregiving responsibilities. The report also says that studies have found that 23 percent of family caregivers who have been providing care for five years or more report their health is fair or poor.

Michigan State University Extension says that caregivers need to make their own care their first priority. It isn’t possible to be an effective caregiver for others without taking responsibility to keep their own well-being in mind. But, because of the constant demands of family caregiving, it is often difficult to include self-care in the daily list of responsibilities.

It is important to keep self-care simple. Stick with the basics. According to the National Center of Caregiving at the San Francisco-based Family Caregiver Alliance, it is vital to focus on the following basic self-care practices:

  • Learn and use stress-reduction techniques.
  • Attend to your own healthcare needs.
  • Get proper rest and nutrition.
  • Exercise regularly.
  • Take time off without feeling guilty.
  • Participate in pleasant, nurturing activities.
  • Seek and accept the support of others.
  • Seek supportive counseling when you need it, or talk to a trusted counselor or friend.
  • Identify and acknowledge your feelings.
  • Change the negative ways you view situations.
  • Set goals.

All of these activities are easier to accomplish with the support of family, friends and community resources. Reaching out to others to gather support for your family caregiving efforts can mean the difference between the normal caregiver burden and disastrous caregiver burnout. Contact your local MSU Extension office, your county commission on aging or the regional Area Agency on Aging to locate community resources to support your valiant efforts at family caregiving and self-care.

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