Research published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA: 1999) indicated that the majority of caregivers predecease their family members with care needs – 63% of caregivers died before the patient. But maybe it doesn’t have to be that way.

 Much research has since been done on caregiving and mortality. More recent research examined caregivers and the effects of cortisol – the so-called “stress hormone” -which builds up over time, reducing the immunity of the caregivers. Other studies indicated physical tasks of caregiving are also to blame, as are the effects of depression as caregivers watch someone they love slowly deteriorate no matter what they do.

 The trick to preventing these stats from becoming reality is to inspire and motivate caregivers to take care of themselves. Here are three simple things to do TODAY to take better care:

 Focus on Stress Management – many activities are proven effective for stress reduction, including “complementary” therapies such as art therapy, music therapy, dance/movement therapy, and laughter therapy. Whatever you can do to add joy to your life can reduce stress. MAKE A LIST of activities which help keep you sane, and SCHEDULE time for them every day – be selfish about it.

 Accept Help with Physical Tasks – Some families and friends are genuine when they say, “What can I do to help?” Some will jump in, while others need a specific request. If you don’t have family, you may need formal (paid) help. Whether you’re talking about lifting the person with care needs or mowing the lawn – or anything in between – most communities offer services and supports to help manage physically demanding jobs. Find a reliable resource (211, Area Agencies on Aging, local senior center) and ask about services, some of which may be provided by volunteers, senior job corps or available at minimal costs.  Don’t try to get help with everything all at once. Pick one task you HATE to do, and enlist the help of someone to do that. Keep your expectations realistic – it probably won’t be done the way you’d do it, but remember that the goal is to SAVE YOUR LIFE.

 Get Professional Support – Effective caregivers usually seek professional help through counseling or with their doctor/nurse practitioner for anti-depressants.  Also support groups can be very validating and affirming. Talk to your physician first, and ask the office staff for referrals for mental health counseling or support group resources in your area.

 For many conditions which affect older adults, care may be needed over extended periods. If you are in this marathon, pace yourself, get support and let us know what works for you. I was a caregiver, and I know that humor was essential to my survival. Comment here to share what has helped you survive caregiving. Sharing your story may save someone else’s life.

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