Warning to Caregivers: Do Not Neglect Your Own Health!


Published: 12/17/2012

by Carrie Steckl, Ph.D.



Sharon has felt lightheaded recently, but she passes this off to fatigue. She’s been caring for her husband, Ralph, for eight years now. His dementia has steadily worsened to the point that he now needs help with bathing and going to the bathroom – tasks that are challenging for Sharon given that she is almost 100 pounds lighter than Ralph. Sharon has diabetes, but she doesn’t always have time to monitor her blood sugar or eat a diabetes-friendly diet. She knows she should go to the doctor because of her lightheadedness and other symptoms, but there just isn’t time when she’s the only one who can take care of Ralph.


Does this sound familiar? Unfortunately, it is. Caregivers are notorious for neglecting their own health in order to take care of others. This is noble and selfless, but it also has consequences. And those consequences might actually make things worse for their loved ones in the long run.


Caregivers have been known to resist going to the doctor, even when they clearly need medical attention. And that’s just regarding more acute medical problems – when it comes to preventive care, caregivers often skip dental exams, annual physicals, and other important tests that can identify diseases early enough to treat them.


The bottom line? If caregivers neglect their own health, they’re more likely to get sick. And if they get sick, who will take care of their loved ones? If caregivers want to provide their family members with the best care possible, one of the most important things they can do is take care of themselves.


Here are three steps to doing that:


Ask for help. It sounds simple, but it is really hard for some caregivers to take this first step. We live in a culture of rugged individualism, where it is seen as a sign of weakness to ask for help. But think of it this way: It actually takes strength to ask for help, so by doing so, you’re showing what a strong person you are as well as that you make decisions for the greater good.


Be creative. How do you ask for help? Start with family members and friends. Think about their unique skills and assets and how those could translate into real help for you. For instance, if one of your children lives far away but has offered financial help, don’t be afraid to ask him or her for assistance with paying for home care. Then, ask a local family member or close friend to help with more practical tasks like picking up groceries now and then or spending time with your loved one so you can have a break (or go to that all-important-doctor!).

If you want to hire a home care agency, try searching our database of senior care services at http://seniorcaresociety.com/findservices.php.


Give it a chance. Asking for help is hard, and you may be tempted to give up before your friends, family, or outside services have really had a chance to demonstrate how much help they can provide. Wait at least a month before deciding whether to continue; and if you decide it’s not working, then find another person or agency to approach.


The key is to not give up. Recognize that by taking care of yourself, you are taking better care of your loved one.