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Your own health continued...

“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.

More care

Sometimes a loved one might need more physical care than you can give them. They might need medication you can't administer, or they might need to be carried or moved. Emotionally, they can be so upset or angry that they become violent or mean. They can be hard to control physically. In any of these cases, it might be good to get help from an experienced professional -- either at in-home or in a facility. They can take care of your loved one's physical needs and won't take it personally if he or she lashes out.

"It can be hard for family to understand that an older person with dementia is not doing or saying things on purpose," says internist Cathy Alessi, MD, president of the American Geriatrics Society. "They understand their loved one has dementia, but sometimes it's difficult to translate that into the day-to-day realities of taking care of someone with memory impairment."

Caregiver support groups can also be very helpful with advice on how to handle memory and behavior issues.

Emotional pain

As a caregiver, you often have to deal with grief -- over the loss of the person you once knew. It's not just your loved one who has lost her old life. You've lost the relationship you had and the life you shared. That can lead to feelings of sadness, grief, and anger.

When you wake up every day with a feeling of dread or anger, it's time for a break, Qualls says. "When I'm giving and giving and giving to someone who can't return that, I'm going to have some resentment," she says. "When that flares in anger, that's a good sign I need more self-care."

Ask for help from friends and family, or get your loved one respite care. "When a caregiver takes a break and experiences such huge relief that they almost collapse and realize how weary they are, that's time to reassess how much one person is doing. The caregiver situation may need to be restructured."