Take Care of Yourself to Care for Chronically Ill Loved One

Elderly woman

By Tiffany Harper, MSW, Courier & Press, July 19, 2016 –

Living with and caring for a chronically ill family member is like going for a long run; it is a marathon, not a sprint. It requires a lot of understanding, endurance, energy and empathy.

Caring for the chronically ill impacts everyone in the home on some level. Relationships, household finances, personal freedom and functioning in general can all be affected.

If you are a caretaker, make sure you’re practicing self-care. Here’s how:

1. Come to terms with the change. Depending on how your loved one’s mobility has been impacted, freedom to come and go can be significantly altered. Activity may be limited. If this is the case, household members will be required to adjust to the change.

Patience goes a long way in this process, particularly if there are children in the home. If there is a new diagnosis or the prognosis is not hopeful, fear can set in. There is fear of the unknown, fear of what the future holds, and fear of losing your loved one.

Educating yourself about your loved one’s illness is important. Getting information directly from medical personnel is strongly recommended over website searches, which potentially give misleading information and cause additional anxiety.

It is OK and even important to grieve over changes and the future prognosis. Comfort can be found in cherishing the moments you still have with your loved one.

2. Focus on the positive. While it is important to grieve the loss of the former way of life, it is also important to find the “half full” portion of the glass. Find moments to stay connected to your loved one, but also be sure to focus on other aspects of life, other family members and friends you cherish, and simple pleasures like a beautiful sunset or the sound of rain.

Practice mindfulness. This requires you to focus on specific moments of your day in the present tense, honing in on the sights, sounds and feelings of the moment. This can be practiced during the most mundane of activities, even tasks as simple as washing dishes.

3. Get support. One of the best catchphrases for support is, “You can’t pour from an empty cup.” Self-care is crucial to those caring for chronically ill family members. Self-care looks different for everyone. It is important to know what activities or practices rejuvenate us physically, mentally and emotionally. Activities as simple as leaving the house for a quick walk, taking a long bath, or talking to a friend can go a long way in renewing body and mind. If you don’t know what works for you, try new things, especially those that fit into the new lifestyle of your home environment.

4. Accept help. If a friend or family member offers help, accept it. This can be very difficult for some. Keep in mind that the people in our lives who care enough to offer probably truly want to help. Allowing them to step in and give you a break, help out with household chores or errands, etc., gives them validation and encouragement in return.

Remember, you must care for yourself to care for someone else. There is nothing selfish about caring for your own health so you can avoid stress and burnout and give your loved one the very best care.