Before I start this column, I want to comment on something that's often taken for granted but is more important than any of us might believe -- dental care.
My son went to the dentist recently because of an infected tooth. He was told he had another tooth that had been infected for quite a long time. My son has had various illnesses over the past year, and the dentist told him it is possible that tooth caused those problems. Very interesting and surprising, so please go to the dentist at least once a year and make sure your loved one is getting the dental care they need. For more, check my column on the importance of good dental care at every age.
Now, on to this week's column. I have received several emails recently asking what to do about the fact that caregiving is so depressing and starting to affect these writers' health. This is a common problem among family caregivers, and we all need to do what we can to get out of this common condition.
I have a friend who is currently taking care of his mother at home 24/7, at least until he goes back to work. He has developed some health problems, and the doctor has told him to get out of the house, change the scenery. Staying home all the time was starting to get to him. He started doing volunteer work where I am employed. I have seen him come into the office very uptight, and I have watched him gradually relax during the day. By the end of his time volunteering, he feels much better.
Whether your loved one is in your home, their home or a residential facility, being a family caregiver one is one of the most difficult things you will probably do in your life. Every family caregiver needs to find a way to get out and keep their own life. It is called respite. When a family caregiver doesn’t get away from the caregiving, they get depressed and end up not taking the best care of their loved -- and they don’t take care of themselves as they should. I don’t want any of you to go through this.
But how can you stay healthy, mentally and physically? After all, your loved one depends on you so much, and you feel guilty if you can’t do everything they need you to do.
You must remind yourself that you are only human and cannot do everything. You cannot make your loved one's problems go away. Their health is probably getting worse, and you can’t change that. All you can do is make their life as good as it can be, given their circumstances. And you must try to accept that.
If you are taking care of your loved one at home, you might need to get help into the house, or take your loved one to an adult day care center. Check the phone book for Adult Day Care or Day Care Services-Adult. This is a God-send to many people, including the elderly. They find friends that have gone through many of the same times such as wars, changes in lifestyles, and other things. They have a lot in common, even though they might have had different jobs and income levels. There are planned activities for them.
Or, it might be time to seriously look into assisted living facilities, where your loved one can find the same friendships and activities. There are activities to do as a group of elderly, and they are not sitting at home with nothing to do.
Even a nursing home has people to socialize with.
Every family caregiver needs to find someone to take over your caregiving responsibilities occasionally. That's the respite I mentioned. You need time for yourself that you don’t have now. You need to go to a movie, go shopping, take a short trip, or whatever it is that you enjoy doing. After you take a break, you will feel refreshed and will do a better job of taking care of your loved one.
There really are people who enjoy helping the family caregiver. To find someone, call local churches, the social worker at a hospital or senior center, nursing homes, and any other place you can think of to ask about respite care. Look in the Yellow Pages for Home Health Care or Home Care agencies. You can hire someone to come into the house or go to the facility. Sometimes the government may pay for some help. Ask your loved one’s doctor if they know of any available help. The Home Health Care and Home Care agencies work with doctors, and they would probably sign the necessary papers for government assistance, if you need it.
Call the U.S. Administration on Aging's toll free phone line. They will refer you to the office in your state to contact. Some states are starting to actually pay relatives to take care of their loved one, although this is fairly new. That number is 1-800-677-1116, Monday through Friday 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. (ET).
Finally, you can go to benefitscheckup.org and run your loved one’s information through the system. It does not ask for any identifying information such as Social Security number or name. It will give you places to check to see if your loved one qualifies for any help you may not have thought of.
Please make sure you are taking a little time for yourself. It will make your life so much better. You need it. You should get it. Now, get going!