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As a caregiver, you may want to do it all and take care of your loved one alone. But there are times when you may need help -- either temporarily or permanently. Here are signs that it may be time to ask for support, and how to get it.

Physical demands

It may have been easier to give care when you were driving to doctors’ appointments or cooking a few meals. But if now the person's needs are very physical -- maybe lifting, bathing, and dressing -- you may need to ask for help.

"You'd be surprised what people do," says clinical psychologist Barry J. Jacobs, author of The Emotional Survival Guide for Caregivers. "I've seen people who have had heart attacks but are still pushing a loved one in a wheelchair or carrying them up the stairs."

That doesn't mean the person you're caring for must leave his or her home. You can hire a home health aide, for example, to do some of the things that you can no longer do.

"Very few families can do all the hands-on physical care without assistance," says clinical psychologist Sara Honn Qualls, PhD, director of the Gerontology Center at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs. "Only you can advocate with the health care system and see the whole health care picture, but physical care is something where you can partner with others."

Your own health

Stress is very common for caregivers. Sometimes you're so busy taking care of someone else that you don’t take good enough care of yourself. Some stress is normal, but signs your stress is too high include:

  • trouble sleeping
  • very little energy
  • getting sad or angry easily
  • little interest in things that used to make you happy
  • headaches, stomachaches, or other physical problems
  • weight gain or loss

"If the caregiver gets sick, the person needing care is in the worst shape possible, because their primary caregiver is no longer there or is out of commission for a while," says Suzanne Mintz, founder of Family Caregiver Advocacy and author of A Family Caregiver Speaks Up.

“Financial planners say, ‘Pay yourself first,’” she says. “Family caregivers need to think that way as well in order to really be as effective as they can be and not destroy their own health.”

In other words, take care of yourself so you can take care of the person you’re caring for.

If you're stressed or sick, ask friends or family members to take over your caring duties for a while. Or consider respite care, meaning your loved one can get a few hours or days of care in their own home or in a full-care facility while you get a break.

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