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A Caregiver's Plight

How to ease the stress

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Booty recommends caregivers call their county's Area Agency on Aging for information and referrals to local programs, such as Meals-On-Wheels, adult day care centers, in-home health aides and transportation assistance. Some programs will even help caregivers with home repairs or offer friendly visitors who stop by occasionally. Hospital discharge planners, doctors, and nurses can also refer caregivers to helpful programs. And, of course, caregivers should look for counseling and support groups for themselves, as well. If you don't take care of yourself, you can't take care of your aging parent or spouse.

Experts recommend the following six tips for warding off depression:

  • Accept that you may need help from others, including family, friends, neighbors, community programs, medical societies, and religious and fraternal groups.
  • Talk regularly with family, friends, or mental health professionals. Find a support group, locally or on the Internet, so you can share your feelings before they escalate into problems.
  • Set limits. It is OK to say "no" to taking on more than you can handle -- physically and emotionally.
  • Eat nutritiously, exercise regularly, and get enough sleep.
  • Let go of unrealistic expectations and demands, including martyrdom.
  • Keep a sense of humor.

Looking back, Aparicio realizes that she lost emotional balance in those first years she cared for her mother. "I was taking care of somebody else and their problems and had little time for my own," she says. "It was a vicious cycle: I was angry and under constant tension." Eventually, she became disabled with chronic back pain and had to stop working for a while.

But now, a decade later, both she and her mother are doing well. Genevieve recently turned 83. They employ home health care aides while Aparicio is at work, and Genevieve attends an adult day care center three times a week. Aparicio has returned to work and participates in an Internet support group with other caregivers who share the best and worst of stories.

"It took years to get to this point," Aparicio says ruefully. "It's so important to get outside support. The reward is seeing my mother live as fully as she is capable -- there's vibrancy, there's laughter. You can't give up; we should never underestimate the power of love to heal the body as well as the soul."

 

Beth Witrogen McLeod is the author of the Pulitzer Prize-nominated book Caregiving: The Spiritual Journey of Love, Loss, and Renewal.

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