By Hayley Hervieux, AARP Texas
Our fast-paced way of life can be exhausting. This is especially true if you are one of millions of people acting as a caregiver for a family member. Whether caring for a parent, child or grandparent—someone with an illness or a disability—you do it out of love, asking nothing in return.
In Texas alone, there are 3.4 million unpaid caregivers like you. In fact, more than a third of AARP members in Texas self-identified as caregivers in a recent survey. Caregivers provide an invaluable service, taking considerable time and energy to care for loved ones. But sometimes it feels like there is not enough time in the day to get everything done. Caregiving can be a challenge, so it’s important that you have the resources to care for your loved ones without forgetting to take care of yourself.
But caregiving can also be rewarding—so don’t push yourself past the burnout point. Here are some suggestions that might help.
If you expect to care for someone soon, make a plan. Don’t just wait for things to happen. Talk with various family members about who will assume what role in an emergency. Include older parents in the conversation, and come up with strategies for handling medical care and finances. Make sure you know where they keep important documents. That way, if something happens, you won’t be blindsided.
For more help with planning (or a more detailed guide), use AARP’s free Prepare to Care booklets.
If you are already caring for a loved one, here are a few things you shouldn't forget.
Taking care of a loved one is a big job. According to AARP’s Public Policy Institute, the typical U.S. caregiver spends 20 hours each week providing unpaid care to loved ones. With all of this work, it can be hard to take time for yourself, but remember that you need to recharge.
It’s important to make sure that your schedule is manageable. You may need to find a way to schedule around your working hours, but remember to balance work and care—and get some rest in there!
The best way to manage this is to develop a routine, and a system for taking time off. Do what works for you. Try planning ahead for a weekly (or monthly) break, or try taking an “apple a day” approach in which you do something, anything, daily that is just for you. Don’t be afraid to use your support circle of family and friends to give yourself a well-deserved break.
If things become overwhelming, consider respite care. Respite care is short-term and designed to provide long-term caregivers with a way to take a timeout from their busy schedules—be it for a few hours or a few days. In-home or out-of-home care is provided for your loved one, while you get the time to recharge.
Using resources such as Take Time Texas, provided by the Texas Department of Aging and Disability Services, you can find the type of care that best fits you. The site is designed to provide caregivers with easy access to services and educational tools in their area.
But no amount of respite care can replace the love and encouragement that your family and friends can provide. Experts argue that building a support circle is one of the most valuable things that you can do in order to care for both your loved one and yourself. Friends and family can help with tasks that you may not be able to manage yourself. When you want to take some time off, they can often step in and assist, and they can also provide valuable emotional support when you need it.
A support circle doesn't have to consist of only friends and family. Think outside the box, and remember that there are many online tools that can aid you.
Online resources come in many shapes and sizes. There are groups created to discuss specific diseases, and sources that provide valuable healthcare information. Social media such as Facebook can serve as social support and curb isolation. Sources such as the AARP Caregiving Resource Center and the National Family Caregivers Association provide caregivers with access to support groups and vital information on caregiving. The bigger and broader your support circle, the better.
So don’t try to hoist the burden of caregiving totally upon yourself. By planning carefully and using resources effectively, you will be able to balance the line while keeping yourself and your loved one healthy.
For more strategies on every aspect of caregiving, visit aarp.org/caregiving
This column was shared with media around the state of Texas.