When Terri Corcoran and her husband Vince were newlyweds, they not only lived together -- they worked together too, organizing scientific conferences and publishing an arts magazine.
But as they settled into married life, things changed dramatically for them. Vince had a genetic condition and became disabled. "He retired because of the illness and I stopped working to care for him," says Corcoran, 65, who lives in Falls Church, VA.
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Corcoran took charge of Vince's medical and personal care. She made changes to their home to make it more accessible, took care of his hygiene, and helped him live as full a life as he could.
They were the most challenging years of her life, she says, but she got through them by learning to take care of herself. She stayed active, ate, and slept well, and found outside support.
Experts agree that your own health and well-being are essential to caring for your loved one. If you're sick and exhausted, it can be tough on everyone, says Marion Somers, PhD, author of Elder Care Made Easier. "Remember what they tell you on an airplane: Put your own oxygen mask on first, then help those in your care."
Pencil in Personal Time
It's easy to fall into a routine of caring for your loved one 24/7. To avoid burnout, it's better to pace yourself.
Take breaks, even on busy days. "Just a few moments for yourself each day can make all the difference," Somers says. You could meditate, read, or soak in a bath.
Go out once a week. Meet friends. Stroll through the park. Join a book club. Mark it in your calendar and keep the appointment.
"I tried to go out almost every day," Corcoran says. When Vince's home health aide arrived, Corcoran went shopping, had lunch with friends, or saw her grandchildren.
Exercise relieves stress and gives you energy. Try for 30 minutes on most days. Go for a brisk walk. Even 10-15 minutes here and there adds up.
Corcoran exercised and danced often. She had a large collection of fitness DVDs and at-home workout routines, which made it easier to exercise every day.