Are you providing care for a loved one? According to Statistics Canada, you are not alone. There are over eight million Canadians providing unpaid care to loved ones.
Caring for the ones we love can be extremely rewarding, but it’s important for caregivers, and especially senior caregivers, to remember to take care of themselves as well.
“Through my interactions with residents, I get to know many senior caregivers and hear how rewarding it is for them to be able to care for their loved one, but it’s also challenging and can lead to burnout,” said Jennifer, a retirement counsellor at Kingsmere Retirement Residence.
It’s heartwarming that many seniors take on this important role and care for those they love. However, there are challenges that accompany caregiving. Caregivers often set aside their own needs to care for their loved one, putting them at a higher risk for physical and mental health challenges than paid caregivers. Many also face financial strain and stress. Given this combination of additional pressures, it is essential that senior caregivers receive support, too.
Need support? We’ve compiled a list of simple things you can do to keep yourself, and your loved ones, healthy and happy.
Take a break
It’s important to take regular breaks from caregiving to refresh and recharge physically and emotionally. Make it easy on relatives and friends who agree to help by having a list of tasks ready so they know how they can assist you. Don’t shy away from expressing your needs. Letting others share caregiving responsibilities lets them experience the gift of caregiving too. Make time for yourself and take a break from your regular routine. What are your favourite things to do? Soak in the tub, read a great book, catch up with a friend — give yourself permission to relax and engage in activities and interests you enjoy.
Consider Respite Care options such as Day Centres where they provide activities for seniors during the day, or Respite Care if you need to travel or take a well-deserved brake.
Ensure your needs are met
Taking care of yourself emotionally, physically and mentally is essential. Learn about the signs of caregiver burnout so you can recognize symptoms such as stress and exhaustion. Do your own self-assessment and ask yourself how you’re doing. “Just as we educate our team members—who are formal caregivers—through our wellness initiatives, senior caregivers also need to ensure that their basic needs are covered: eat well, stay hydrated, get a good night’s rest and exercise. We can’t take care of another person if we don’t first take care of ourselves,” Jennifer said.
Seek support from other caregivers
As a senior caregiver, it’s important to have your own network of personal support, and one of the best ways to build your network is through caregiver support groups. Typically, these are in-person and online groups of other caregivers where you can ask questions, share your challenges, learn coping strategies, and make new connections. Many groups are facilitated by experienced caregivers and offer guest speakers. In light of COVID-19, most senior caregiver support groups are now virtual. Marshall the goodwill of others by searching social media and the internet for a caregiver support group that speaks to you.
Consider retirement living
Caregiving is not easy. If you find you’re unable to continue providing the level of care needed, or you find the physical and emotional strain to be too much, it may be time to consider retirement living for you and your spouse.
“A retirement residence provides many benefits including a caring community of team members and other seniors, a safe environment with the necessary infection prevention and control practices, access to medical staff, along with ties to local community healthcare systems,” Jennifer said.
In a retirement residence, you won’t have to worry about grocery shopping, cooking, or home maintenance. And at a time when many social gatherings are being cancelled or restricted due to fears of exposure, residents in senior living can still enjoy the great company of peers and friends in a safe, physically-distanced environment.
Caregivers are guided by the heart to support loved ones. By practicing self-care, understanding and respecting personal caregiving limits, maintaining social connections and being realistic about one’s capabilities in the short and long-term, senior caregivers can continue to have the opportunity to serve the ones they love.