Caring for the caregiver

Posted on 29 July 2016

Looking after the severely ill, disabled or frail is mentally and physically taxing. Clinical psychologist Elzabé Peters of Mediclinic Potchefstroom has first-hand experience. She shares seven things carers can do to safeguard themselves.

1. Sleep
‘Getting enough sleep is often one of the greatest challenges for caregivers,’ says Elzabé, and she would know because she has a disabled 10-year-old daughter and a mother-in-law with dementia to take care of.

‘I always say that you can’t buy sleep in a packet, but you can pay for it,’ says Elzabé. ‘We have a night nanny that sleeps in once a week. If you can’t afford this, ask a good friend to give you the night off.’

2. Exercise
Caring for someone requires a degree of physical fitness. ‘You may need to lift or turn or carry and that’s no easy task. I do Pilates for strength and I jog 5km twice a week,’ says Elzabé. She also consulted with a physiotherapist for advice on how best to lift her 30kg daughter. ‘Just dressing her is enough to work up a sweat and I have to be able to move her efficiently without injuring myself,’ she says.

3. Eat
‘Making sure you eat regular, healthy meals is essential, even when you are in a rush, says Elzabé. ‘If you don’t look after yourself, you’ll soon be heading for trouble.’ Planning ahead and keeping healthy snacks in the fridge can help.

4. Reflect
Spiritual practices such as meditation, prayer or keeping a gratitude journal is beneficial. ‘In times of difficulty or crisis people often lose faith,’ says Elzabé, ‘but it’s also when pastoral support and counselling is needed most.’ She recommends belonging to a spiritual community and keeping up any familiar spiritual practices.

5. Be positive
‘It is impossible to experience a negative and positive emotion at the same time. Hope displaces despair so always try to look for silver linings,’ says Elzabé. However, she also emphasises that this may be a struggle for some and that you shouldn’t deny your feelings. ‘Allow yourself to feel sad or frustrated if necessary, it’s normal,’ she says.

6. Grieve
Caring for a loved one often results in a loss of freedom, a relationship, a lifestyle or life and so on. Grieving is therefore something a carer may need to do. ‘There are five stages of grief,’ explains Elzabé. ‘Denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. You need to allow yourself to work through these, preferably with a professional.’

7. Ask for help
‘If you have more down days than up days, lose interest in past pleasures, or have a change in your appetite, sleeping patterns and energy levels then you may need an antidepressant and therapy,’ says Elzabé. ‘And if you’re having suicidal thoughts then definitely get medical assistance.’ Suffering from depression is common amongst caregivers, but it’s treatable.

‘Support from friends, support groups or anonymous online forums can also be very helpful, but ultimately, being a caregiver is a choice. If you are unable to cope or adjust, there are institutions that can assist.’

Published in Healthy Life

In the interest of our patients, in accordance with SA law and our commitment to expertise, Mediclinic cannot subscribe to the practice of online diagnosis. Please consult a medical professional for specific medical advice. If you have any major concerns, please see your doctor for an assessment. If you have any cause for concern, your GP will be able to direct you to the appropriate specialists.

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