How to Care for the Elderly Without Losing Your Mind

Updated on August 14, 2017
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Darcia has been an in-home caregiver for 5 years, the last of which have been on a live-in basis.

The Heavy Toll of Caregiving

Caregivers have an awesome responsibility and a privileged position providing a much-needed service to others. It is very important, however, to not lose ourselves in our work. Studies have proven that caregiving can be a very demanding job, with many challenges that are a constant struggle for health care assistants. So much so, that many paid caregivers quit after their first months at the job. According to the Private Duty Benchmarking Study, a report that is published annually, the turnover rate for caregivers in 2014 was 53.2% for those working in home health care. That means that over half of all caregivers quit their jobs in 2014.

Depression in caregivers is often a problem, as they see the elderly losing control of their minds and bodies. It can be a thankless and demanding job with few rewards. A study published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine involved a group of 5,627 caregivers and found that 32% of them showed six signs of depression and thus were clinically depressed.

Clearly, there is a correlation between caregivers and depression that needs to be addressed. But how can we alleviate the problem in those caring for loved ones? How can you keep your sanity when caring for the elderly is not your chosen profession, but a familial responsibility?

Here are just a few ideas to help you keep your edge and maintain the positive attitude so necessary in caring for others.

Loving Hands
Loving Hands | Source

1. Have an Outlet

Do you have a hobby such as needlework, drawing, painting, playing an instrument, or other creative channel? Engage in something that sparks your imagination for at least a half an hour a day. First of all, you will find yourself improving in your endeavor. You can’t work at anything for 30 minutes daily without getting better. Secondly, it will help you refocus your attention on something positive.

Caregiving can be physically and emotionally stressful. To provide the best care possible, you might put your loved one's needs before your own. In turn, you could develop feelings of sadness, anger and loneliness, as well as guilt. Sometimes, these emotions trigger caregiver depression.

— -Mayo Clinic

2. Stay Physically Active

You may be lifting patients, making beds, and feeling like you are constantly on the move, however, time set aside for exercise will reap many rewards. Whether it’s walking in a neighborhood for 30 minutes, spending 20 minutes on a stair stepper, or going to the gym for a daily swim, we need the energy-giving lift that exercise gives us. It will clear your head, oxygenate your blood cells, and give you the stamina you need to succeed in caregiving.

3. Limit Your Screen Time

We all love the internet or our favorite TV shows and movies, but face it, spending hours looking at a screen is not healthy for us, emotionally or physically. It is far too easy to be lulled into a zombie-like state, escaping from our stresses for hours at a time. This is not to say that all screen time is bad. Surfing the net or watching videos for entertainment is totally different from actually using the internet as a tool. Which brings me to my next point.


4. Be a Lifelong Learner

Just because you have finished school doesn’t mean you should stop being a learner. Are you stagnating mentally, or are you striving to improve your knowledge and mental prowess? Learning keeps our minds sharp and healthy. Just like the muscles in our body, we need to exercise our minds to keep us alert, creative, and healthy mentally. Don’t know what to learn? Pick up a language on Duolingo. Study art or philosophy on Khan Academy. Learn about our incredible earth with documentaries on YouTube. The world is waiting for you to discover it. Start today.

5. Eat Right

Ok, we’re all busy. Sometimes it’s difficult to get out of the door on time, let alone find the time to make correct food choices. The trick is to plan ahead so you are not making spur-of-the-moment poor eating decisions. On your days off, buy healthy snacks (baby carrots, mixed nuts, yogurt, salads) and pre-package them so you can just grab and go on your way out of the house. Boil some eggs, pre-cook some skinless, boneless chicken breasts (or a whole chicken to divide up), or make some pulled pork to portion out throughout the week. Focus on fruits, veggies, and high-protein choices. Get a water bottle and fill it regularly throughout the day. It may sound expensive and time-consuming, but planning and eating healthy meals can save you money and health problems in the long run.

6. Get Enough Sleep

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, fully one third of Americans don't get enough sleep. You wouldn’t expect your car to get you from point A to point B without a properly charged battery. Don’t expect yourself to deal with the stresses and challenges of caring for seniors without a proper night’s sleep. We all know that sleep will keep us alert throughout the day, keep our mind clear, and help our bodies perform smoothly. But how do we manage it in our busy lives? Discipline, routine, and if necessary, medicine. Make the decision to turn off the computer and/or television one hour before we go to bed. Relax with a book or puzzle before getting ready for bed. Be sure to only sleep in your bedroom (aside from time with your significant other). Remove all distractions and make the room as quiet, and dark as possible. Make your bedtime ritual something that prepares you mentally and physically before bed. Resist the temptation to take a phone or tablet to bed. Go to bed and get up at the same time every day. If these tips don't seem to help, see your physician. There are many safe, effective medications to promote a restful, regenerating night of sleep.

Are You Getting Enough Sleep?

Studies have shown that most people need seven or more hours of sleep a night. Conversely, more than ten hours per night can be harmful to your health. How many hours of sleep do you get each night?

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7. Take Time Off

It’s too easy to spend our entire weekend running errands, grocery shopping, working in the yard, or paying our bills. Be sure to schedule time for relaxing as well. We all need to rejuvenate and recharge by putting work aside and spending time with family, or just ourselves. If you are a full-time caregiver, this is even more important. There are many options out there for respite care. Call your local elderly home care provider, such as Home Instead, or Visiting Angels, or search for one on National Association for Homecare and Hospice . It may be more affordable than you think, and they can even do your dishes or put a load in the washer while you're gone. If the budget doesn't permit, as your relatives and friends for a needed break, or reach out to your church body. It's OK to ask for help. There are often people who would like to help and don't know how. Even a few hours a week can help restore your peace of mind and lift your spirits.

8. Connect With Others

As well as keeping up with your current relationships, find other caregivers as support. Talk to your respite care providers. Look for caregiver support online. Find a Facebook group of caregivers. Reach out to your clergy. Only those who have walked in your caregiving shoes truly understand the pressures and frustrations of you are faced with. Spend time brainstorming solutions, venting problems, or just talking about your experiences in this rewarding vocation with someone who has “been there, done that.”

Signs of Depression
Feelings of helplessness or hopelessness
Decrease or increase in appetite
Disrupted sleep patterns - inability to sleep or to stay awake
Anger or anxiety
Feelings of worthlessness or guilt
Loss of interest in normal activities
Difficulty thinkig or making decisions
Thoughts of death or suicide
Tiredness, lack of energy, or unexplained pain

9. Take Mini-Vacations

Take time to literally smell the roses. Look for and savor the good that comes our way daily. You may be exhausted on the drive home, but isn’t the sunset spectacular? Soak it in! Your senior patient may have been difficult today, but remember that sweet comment that her family member made to you last time they were there? Treasure it! It can sometimes be frustrating dealing with healthcare professionals, but isn’t modern medicine amazing? Keep your sense of wonder alive. There’s always good to be found and comfort to be had in every day if we keep our eyes and ears open to it. That is what makes caregiving so special; a warm touch, a grateful smile, and the beauty round about us.

Savor the Sunsets
Savor the Sunsets | Source

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.

© 2017 Darcia Douglass


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