Caregivers: Don’t forget to care for yourself
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Even the seemingly simple things we do for someone else may define us as caregivers.
Many people think that a caregiver is someone who lives in the home, helps out every day and is related to a person needing assistance. The reality is that tasks of a caregiver can be as simple as providing transportation to an appointment or making a trip to the store — or as involved as providing assistance with taking medication, dressing and bathing, or providing 24/7 personal care.
For people who help out now and again, the task seems simple enough and most are happy to do so. Many of us have chipped in during a friend’s or a neighbor’s time of need. Others have committed to caring for a loved one for the long haul to allow him or her to remain at home as long as possible.
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Some people might think they are just lending a hand and are not really caregivers, but the number of Americans who act as caregivers is growing, particularly as baby boomers age. Every day, 40 million of our friends, neighbors and relatives help someone with the daily activities of living. According to the AARP, 345,000 in Kansas have provided unpaid care to an adult age 50 or older in the last 12 months.
Regardless of how often or how long you may have been one, all caregivers should acknowledge the importance of support for themselves. We’ve heard the saying, “You can’t serve from an empty cup.” Although it sounds counterintuitive, as a caregiver you must make yourself your top priority. To stress the importance of self-care, the Family Caregiver Alliance says that information, respite and support — the IRS of caregiving — are the key components of caregiving.
Being a caregiver can be stressful, and all caregivers need a break. Respite can come in many forms, from having someone take over long enough for you to run a few errands, to using agencies that provide adult day care while you are at work. At first, it may not feel right to take a respite break. Feelings of guilt too often keep many caregivers from building in respite time for themselves, but if the caregiver’s health fails, there may be no one to provide the loved one’s care.
Several agencies and facilities in Douglas County provide respite care for just an hour a week or for several days at a time. Although it may be hard to allow someone else to take the reins, having even a short break can be affordable and valuable in preventing burnout or reaching endurance limits.
The longer you are a caregiver, the more isolated you can become. The daily stress and pure exhaustion can further isolate you, even from close family members who are less involved. This is a warning sign that you need to reach out for additional support.
Numerous support groups are available that allow you to share feelings and discuss the specifics of your situation related to caregiving. A group can reinforce that you are not alone, provide a chance to share experiences or provide a safe place to release the stress and worry that come with being a caregiver. Caregiver support groups at the Senior Resource Center for Douglas County also include past caregivers who can provide additional support from someone who has experienced the strains of caregiving firsthand.
In addition, SRC provides resources and other types of support to caregivers and people who need assistance caring for seniors in their homes. SRC has navigators on staff who — for no fee — will help find resources for current and future needs.
Area caregiver support groups
Lawrence Memorial Hospital offers support groups for people dealing with for specific conditions including cancer, Parkinson’s disease and stroke. LMH also has a bimonthly grief support group. For more information about these support groups, contact LMH Connect Care at 785-505-5800.
Here are some additional support groups:
• Senior Resource Center Caregiver Support Group: 2:15-3:45 p.m. first and third Mondays at Senior Resource Center, 2920 Haskell Ave., Lawrence
• First United Methodist Church Caregiver Support Groups; first and third Tuesdays:
10-11 a.m. at 946 Vermont St., Lawrence
6:30-7:30 p.m. at West Campus, 867 Highway 40, Lawrence
• Support Group for Spouses of Dementia Patients: 11 a.m.-noon second Thursdays at Senior Resource Center, 2920 Haskell Ave., Lawrence
• West Side Presbyterian Caregiver Support Group: 3:30-5 p.m. fourth Mondays at 1024 Kasold Drive, Lawrence
• Baldwin City Caregiver Support Group: 1-2 p.m. first Wednesdays at First United Methodist Church, 704 Eighth St., Baldwin City. This month, the group will meet July 11 because of the July 4 holiday.
— Michelle Meier is director of community engagement for the Senior Resource Center for Douglas County, a community partner of Lawrence Memorial Hospital, which is a major sponsor of the Lawrence Journal-World’s Health section. She can be reached at 785-842-0543.