An estimated 2.7 million Canadians provide long term care to loved ones. Nearly 1.9 million admit to feeling stressed. Some 10% have clinical depression. These are but a few sobering figures common in the caregiver community, most of whom are adult children and spouses of aging loved ones.
Long term care also influences a caregiver's financial situation. Working less hours, requesting unpaid time off, and paying out-of-pocket expenses on behalf of a loved one all contribute to burdens caregivers experience. We have to make compromises as a result of caring for a loved one.
Many of us become so consumed in meeting the needs of our aging loved ones that we forget to meet the needs of ourselves. If you identify as one of the 2.7 million, remember you are not alone. There are resources available to caregivers who provide long term care. Two include the Care-ring Voice Network, a free tele-learning and web information platform, and compassionate care benefits, a Service Canada Employment Insurance program.
Reading up on caregiver resources takes time and effort, which some of us may not have at the moment. Don't fret. Here's a quick list of caregiver survival tools to help you remember that your loved one is not the only one in need of TLC.
- Take a break: Stepping away from our caregiver responsibilities for a few hours, a day, or long weekend does not mean we are doing less than we should for our loved ones. Taking a break recharges our minds, bodies, and spirits and promotes a positive outlook.
- Eat right: Eating well and staying hydrated fuels our bodies and sustains our mental focus. We may have to rely on convenience foods more often than we prefer, but we do have choices. Stopping at the local grocer to grab a deli sandwich, apple, and juice may take the same amount of time as waiting for a hamburger, fries, and diet soda. You may save a little money too.
- Accept help: You don't have to do it all nor should you. If a friend offers to take your loved one to an appointment so you can do errands, cook dinner, or catch the early show, say yes.
- Acknowledge feelings: We all have good days, bad days, and many days in-between when providing long term care. Try not to feel guilty for feeling frustrated, inadequate, or burnt-out. Rather, seek a caring friend or support group to talk things through or to listen to other caregivers share similar sentiments.
- Exercise: Talk a walk. Go to the gym. Bike around the block. Doing a physical activity you enjoy a few times a week helps promote a healthy body and alleviates stress.
- Treat yourself: If taking a day off is out of the question, take time to indulge in something you enjoy. You deserve a little me-time for all that you do for your loved one.
- Check your health: When our minds are too busy to tell us to slow down, our bodies show symptoms we should no longer ignore. Take care of yourself or seek a doctor's advice.
- Be present: As long term care providers, we are often one, two, or three steps ahead of everyone else. Remind yourself to appreciate today for what it is. Cherish its victories and learn from its trials.
For more facts on caregivers in Canada, read "In Focus: Informal Caregiving" published by the Canadian Research Network for Care in the Community (2011).