The Importance of Self-Care for Caregivers

CURE, Spring Supplement 2013, Volume 12, Issue 0

Remembering to take care of yourself as the caregiver should be just as important as taking care of the patient.

Like the barber who doesn’t make time for a haircut or a top chef who skips meals, many caregivers fail to care for themselves.

n a survey of 760 self-described caregivers, randomly selected from a national panel of adults, 45 percent admitted that they were more likely to forget their own medications than medications for patients in their care. Compared with non-caregivers, those surveyed were 10 percent more likely to forget to take their medications, 11 percent more likely to stop taking medications if they felt well, and 13 percent more likely to forget to refill their medications.

An AARP and National Alliance for Caregiving study showed that about half of caregivers provide at most eight hours of care every week, and 13 percent provide more than 40 hours per week. Recognizing that caregivers can be overwhelmed, overworked, anxious or tired, the National Cancer Institute (NCI) urges caregivers to take care of themselves for the same reason flight attendants warn adults to put on their own oxygen masks before helping children: Their health is essential to anyone who depends on them. At a minimum, the NCI wants caregivers to do these things:

> Go to all checkups

> Eat healthy meals

> Get adequate rest

> Exercise

> Make time to relax

  • If those activities are not possible, caregivers should ask for help. Those who report feeling burdened experience declines in physical health, including lower immune function and slower recuperation. Experts also recommend caregivers seek support from family or friends; use time off for self-care; read or listen to uplifting material; pray or meditate; consider joining a support group to learn from others and trade advice; and take prescribed medications.