November is National Family Caregivers Awareness Month. When you are a caregiver for a loved one, it’s important to remember you need to pay attention to your own needs in order to stay strong for the person you are caring for, says Rob Carter, Director of Pastoral Care at Montefiore Nyack Hospital.
“I ask caregivers how they are making sure they’re doing simple things like eating, sleeping, ask about their physical routines or exercise,” he said. “If you’re taking care of someone all day, then it’s too easy to neglect yourself.”
Asking for help can be difficult for many people, but it’s necessary for caregivers to avoid burnout, Chaplain Carter says. “Caregivers can easily become overwhelmed and depressed. It’s important to understand you don’t have all the answers.” Reach out to family members, friends, and neighbors. If you’re part of a faith community, let them know what’s going on, Chaplain Carter advises. “Your church or synagogue, Scout groups, even middle or high school honor student groups may give community service credits to teens who volunteer,” he said. “Or there may be members who are happy to cook or provide other services.”
Having a social network is also important for caregivers, he says. “Whether it’s church, golf buddies, or a book group, you need some regular social contact.”
Susan Mazzarella, Director of the Employee Assistance Program at Montefiore Nyack Hospital, says there are a number of resources in the community that can help caregivers. “Besides local religious organizations, there are services such as Meals on Wheels that deliver meals to seniors,” she said. The Rockland County Office for the Aging (rocklandgov.com/departments/aging/) has resources including caregiver respite services, information on support groups, and information on adult day care.
Support groups can be a big help to caregivers, she says. In addition to the Office of Aging, other good resources for support groups are patient health organizations such as the American Cancer Society or the Alzheimer’s Association. “In-person support groups are very valuable, but if you don’t have one near you or you can’t find time for them, then online support groups can be helpful too,” Mazzarella said.
Make it a priority to set aside time to de-stress, she emphasizes. “If stress is making you sick, then you won’t be well enough to care for your loved one,” she said. “Find time for exercise, try meditation or yoga. And be kind to yourself—know that no one is really prepared for this—you learn as you go through it.”