January 16, 2018

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Caregivers: Don’t Forget to Take Care of Yourself

Nancy Drange, NP, Geriatrics, ACMC-WillmarAs a nurse practitioner in geriatrics and the Wound Clinic at ACMC-Willmar, I see patients in all ages and stages of their golden years. Many patients can care for themselves, but others require some help from a caregiver. For some of my patients, they may need a little bit of assistance, but for others a caregiver must be present for round-the-clock care.

My own experience with caregiving came when my father was diagnosed with dementia and I was his primary care giver.  He lived alone at the time and he needed a lot of assistance at first – until we got the right services in place. I was named his power of attorney, or health care agent, as well as his power of attorney for finances. That is a lot of responsibility for one person. I would recommend not doing both of those roles.  Ask for help!  My brother-in-law became one of our best supporters.  My father always liked and trusted him and he seemed to listen to him and respond to him better than his own children.  

The role of caregiver is important, but can also be stressful. As a caregiver, you may be so focused on your loved one that you don’t realize that your own health and well-being are suffering. Caregivers who take care of their own needs and get the information, help and support they need are better prepared to take care of their loved ones. So I love it when I get asked, “How can I care for my loved one while still taking time for myself?”

My answer is simple. Make time. If you are a caregiver then taking care of yourself is one of the most important things you can do for both yourself and the person you care for. And you shouldn’t feel guilty doing it—though that can be easier said than done.

It may mean asking friends and family to help out so you can take a much-needed break to do things you enjoy. For some families it may mean seeking out an adult day care service or getting help from a local home health agency.

Here are a few simple ways you can take care of yourself:

  • If you work, look into the Family Medical Leave Act. You may be eligible for up to 12 weeks a year to care for a loved one. Employers are required to pay benefits during this time and some may even allow for a reduced work schedule to accommodate your caregiving needs.
  • Ask for help when you need it whether it’s a one-time ask or a standing weekly arrangement.
  • Join a caregivers support group.
  • Take a break for yourself every day.
  • Spend time with family and friends.
  • Keep up with your hobbies and interests.
  • Take care of your body. Eat healthy foods. Get some exercise as often as you can. See your doctor on a regular basis.

Remember, it is not selfish to focus on yourself when you are a caregiver—it’s the most important part of the job! The best way to care for others is by caring for yourself.

At ACMC-Willmar Nancy Drange, RN, CNP, CWON coordinates patient care with primary physicians in internal medicine and family medicine. Nancy Drange is a registered nurse, a certified nurse practitioner and a certified wound ostomy nurse. On-site primary care and supervision of patients is provided in nursing homes and home-based settings to optimize patient care and communicate between health care providers and family members.