According to a 2015 caregiver survey by the AARP Public Policy Institute and the National Alliance for Caregiving (NAC), 22% of caregivers reported declining health as a result of caring for a loved one, and nearly half reported high levels of emotional stress. If you are the primary caregiver of an elderly or disabled person in your family, you know all too well the demands your role places on your physical and emotional well-being.
For you as a caregiver, it’s important to take time to attend to your needs, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH). After all, perhaps the best thing you can do for the person who counts on you is to stay healthy and strong, both physically and mentally. Here are some caregiver health tips to get you started.
What can I do to improve my diet and nutrition?
Part of taking good care of yourself is making sure you’re eating right. Consult your doctor before you make dietary changes. Here are some nutrition tips from the American Heart Association:
- Whole grain foods are healthy and help you feel full longer. A bowl of instant oatmeal with fruit or a peanut butter sandwich on whole wheat bread is a quick meal replacement when you’re too busy to cook.
- Choose a piece of fresh fruit over a glass of fruit juice; you get the added benefit of fiber and natural vitamins.
- Try a handful of nuts or seeds for a quick, high-protein, healthy snack.
- Replace sodas with sparkling water—throw in some berries or a twist of lemon or lime to boost the flavor.
- Keep cut vegetables, fruits, and berries on hand when hunger strikes. Replace creamy, high-fat dips with healthy salsa, hummus, and low-fat yogurt.
How can I get more exercise as a caregiver?
Finding time for exercise has all kinds of health benefits: It helps relieve stress, and can even prevent disease, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. If a trip to the gym seems out of reach, try these health tips as an alternative:
- Keep a yoga mat, stationary bike, or aerobics video on hand and grab a few minutes of exercise while your loved one naps.
- Take your loved one on a walk outdoors to enjoy the sun; if the weather’s bad, take a few circles around the mall and enjoy the window shopping.
- Listen to your favorite music and dance while you cook or do household chores—you’ll feel cheered and burn more calories.
- Take other family members and friends up on their offers to help. Let them sit with Mom for an hour and do something you love: Take a bike ride, jog around the park, walk through the zoo with your grandson.
How can I reduce stress as a caregiver?
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) reports that caregivers sometimes neglect their own health while tending to the needs of a loved one. The NIH and the Office on Women’s Health suggest the following as some ways to relieve stress:
- Take a break from the stressful situation. Let yourself walk away from a needy parent, a mountain of laundry, a stack of bills—whatever it is that’s draining you emotionally—even for just a few minutes. Sit on the porch with a cup of tea, take a stroll around your garden, or read a chapter of your favorite novel. You’ll have a new perspective and feel less overwhelmed.
- Make sure you get enough sleep.
- Seek support from family and friends. Make a list of things someone could help out with.
- Join a caregiver support group. This will not only give you a sympathetic outlet for talking about your stresses and emotions – another caregiver might have a great suggestion that could help in your situation. To find caregiver support groups in your area:
It’s not easy being a caregiver, but it’s even harder if you’re neglecting your own health and emotional needs. In addition to these health tips, remember to get regular check-ups from your doctor, and call her right away if you notice any changes in your health.