In part one I wrote about the importance of unpaid carers who care for someone. Carers need to care for themselves. This can sometimes be difficult because your first priority tends to be the person/people you care for. However, remind yourself it is not selfish to put yourself first whenever humanly possible. If you don’t take care of yourself, sooner or later this will take its toll on your physical or mental health, or both.
The caring role may be 24/7 and may go on for many years. Sometimes all the responsibility falls on one person because there is no one else available. Perhaps others avoid helping out. Sometimes a carer does such a good job and never complains so others don't offer to help because they feel a bit inadequate.
The care recipient may refuse help from anyone else. A carer may worry others won’t provide care of a high standard so they may not take advantage of available help and respite. As a carer it may be difficult to accept help because you have the belief you are failing if you do. Sometimes carers do not know what support is available.
Here are ten tips about caring for the carer.
1. Join a carer support group. Some support groups are general and others provide support and information to carers of people with specific disabilities.
Carer support groups vary in the support they can provide so you need to ask how the group can help you. Say what help you need and if that group can't provide it they may refer you somewhere that can. Support groups can sometimes organise respite to enable the carer to go on outings or attend a retreat.
Talking to other carers who understand your situation helps reduce stress. Online groups can be useful and helpful. Contact the Carers Association in your state for information about support groups and caring issues.
2. Take advantage of any opportunity to have social contact. Carers can become isolated. Make an effort to maintain friendships. If you can’t catch up in person, at least have a chat on the phone.
3. Talk to a counsellor, psychologist or church worker about your situation and your emotions. Don’t leave it until you are at breaking point. Your doctor may be able to refer you to someone suitable. It is possible to self-refer to some counselling services. Don’t be embarrassed to say you can’t afford an expensive service when you are making initial enquiries. Some are free or require a $10 payment, especially if you have a concession card. If the first person you speak to doesn’t seem to be helping after a few sessions, try someone else.
4. Have regular medical check ups. Talk to your doctor about your health, not just the person you care for. It is all too easy to give your own health a low priority.
5. It may be difficult to get enough sleep. Your sleep may be interrupted. Do all you can to get a good night’s sleep. If you are able and find it helpful, take a nap when you can. Try to relax and do something for yourself before you collapse into bed.
6. You may think being tired all the time is just part of being a carer and ignore it. However, have a chat to your doctor. He/she may find you are anaemic and need iron supplements. You may have sleep apnoea or another condition. I speak from experience as I have suffered anaemia and sleep apnoea but was so used to being tired I didn’t realise I had health issues.
7. Get regular exercise that you enjoy. A daily walk can be enjoyable as well as beneficial and may be easier to arrange than other forms of exercise.
8. Arrange to have regular respite. The person you care for may object, especially at first but be persistent. It may be an idea to try a short period of respite at first and gradually increase it. Talk to other carers for strategies.
9. If the person you care for is admitted to hospital try to avoid taking on the role of nurse. It is easy to find yourself working just as hard as when the care recipient is at home. It can be hard to leave these tasks to the nursing staff but you need a break. It is also a time when the person you care for can get used to other people providing care. If you have the opportunity to go away for a few days, do so and don’t feel guilty. You will benefit from a break.
10. Every day make time to do something for yourself. You may find this difficult but work on it. Having something to look forward will help your own mental health. Your ‘me time’ is vital.
General information for women about caring for yourself is particularly relevant to carers, just harder to carry out. Remember to indulge in a bubble bath, a coffee morning with friends, or a walk in the botanical gardens whenever possible and don’t forget the value of a good belly laugh.