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Compassion: Self-Care for Caregivers

New research in Alzheimer's is promising.

(This story is by Margie Culbertson, an AARP Mississippi volunteer and freelance writer. Her photo is at the left.)

"I'm an exhausted caregiver on the point of collapse. In caring for my sick husband and father, and my demented mother, I feel I've ceased to exist as a person." So says Cary Tennis in her online cry for help. And Nancy L. Snyderman, a physician as well as caregiver for her elderly father, echoes these words: "During the tough times I, like so many others, forgot to check in with myself. Within months I had put on 15 pounds, was sleeping five hours a night and was just emotionally raw. I didn't know then what I know now - that caregiver burnout is real and that the stress of caregiving comes on like a full-frontal assault.

But must caregivers simply endure this "assault"? The website Cancer.Net says no, caregivers aren’t doomed to feel “exhausted” and “emotionally raw.” But, they emphasize, you must be willing to take a very important first step: admit that you need help. This is the one important step that Dr. Snyderman took. She looked at her situation and had to admit that she needed help. 

If you are a caregiver, stop and notice any signs of stress you might be experiencing, including exhaustion, frequent sickness, sleepiness, impatience, irritability, forgetfulness, depression, anxiety, withdrawing, or any one of the many other symptoms of stress. Then scour your community for help.  Look at religious organizations, volunteer groups, government agencies, and more. Remember to ask your family and friends as well. Avoid assuming they are "too busy," etc. Even though you may feel you must shoulder all the responsibility by yourself, you don’t.

In 1965,  Congress enacted the Older Americans Act. This bill established the National Family Caregiver Support Program. On this support program's website, you'll find the very helpful Eldercare Locator. You can use this locator to search for assistance by topic or by location.

For caregiver help specifically available in Mississippi, go to The National Resource Directory website's  Mississippi section. In addition, visit the Family Caregiver Alliance website for its many sources of help. Here you'll find dozens of options, including online support groups and a section called the "Family Care Navigator" where you can click on the section for Mississippi residents. Here you'll find dozens of links and phone numbers to everything from government agencies, volunteer groups, disease-specific sites, and more.

Of course, none of these resources will help you unless you make caring for yourself a priority, which is not the same as being selfish. The first guideline in the Caregiver’s Bill of Rights says “I have the right to take care of myself. This is not an act of selfishness.” In another source, a Psychology Today article entitled Is Self-Care Selfish? the author writes, “As we learn better self-care, we become better people in general. If we are filling our own emotional tanks with self-respect and loving care, we have much more to give to our families, friends, and the world in general.”

So be kind to yourself. Start living a complete and full life as a human be-ing. Don't live as a human do-ing. Care for your body - physically, emotionally and spiritually. Eat well, exercise and get enough sleep. Take a friend out to lunch. Go to that social function. Attend church.

Finally, if you need one more reason why you should take care of yourself, simply realize that taking care of your emotional health and physical needs makes you a truly caring caregiver!

(This is the final column in the AARP Mississippi five-part series on caregivers. Next month's column will cover the phenomenon known as "The Alzheimer's Epidemic." To contact Margie, or to get access to her previous columns, email her at

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