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The most important caregiver task: Take care of yourself

AGING MATTERS

What is caregiving? Am I a caregiver? Many people who look after loved ones do not consider themselves a caregiver and do not claim the label.

For example, my grandmother Mary (82 years old) watches my cousin’s son every day while my cousin and his wife are at work; my aunty Iris (55 years old) is a nurse and coordinates caregiving services for my grandpa who lives in his own home; my uncle Ivan (57 years old) lives with my grandma and grandpa and cooks their dinner every night; my mom Lynne (52 years old) helps out my uncle, who lives on the Mainland, with his money management; and my friend Jessica (23 years old) is a long-distance caregiver for her parents, who live in the Philippines.

None of them claim the caregiver title. Jessica feels she is “too young” to be a caregiver, Lynne is just “lending a helping hand” from time to time, Ivan is a chef and loves to cook, Iris feels that it is “her responsibility” to take care of her dad, and Mary enjoys watching her great-grandson.

The truth is, they are all caregivers and they don’t even know it. Anyone can become a caregiver or someone who needs caregiving assistance at any point in time of their lives. Former first lady Rosalynn Carter once said, “There are only four kinds of people in this world: Those who have been caregivers, those who are caregivers, those who will be caregivers, and those who will need caregivers.”

The task of caregiving falls primarily on family members and friends over professional caregivers. In fact, 80 percent of caregiving is done by family and friends.

Most family/friends are glad their loved ones stay independent and in their homes as long as possible. It brings them a sense of fulfillment and can be very rewarding for both the caregiver and the person receiving the care.

Many feel a stronger sense of connection to the person they are caring for. Others are more confident when they know the care they provide is in alignment to their family member’s wishes. And some prefer to help raise their grandchild over sending them to a daycare provider.

Although it may be a rewarding task to take care of your loved ones, caregiving is tough, and when reality strikes, it can all become overwhelming to juggle your own life, work and family.

In 2013, AARP estimated that Hawaii caregivers provided $2.1 billion in unpaid care.

Caregiving can be a struggle financially, mentally, spiritually, emotionally and physically. Many caregivers experience negative feelings such as depression, anger, frustration, feeling burnt out, and they usually experience poorer health than noncaregivers. All of these feelings could be signs that they are doing too much and they need to take some time to relax and enjoy themselves.

A large number of caregivers get so caught up trying to support the ones in need, that they forget the most important caregiver task — to take care of themselves!

If you are one of Maui’s courageous caregivers or if you know someone who is, consider what you can do this week to take care of yourself.

REDUCE PERSONAL STRESS

Engage in activities such as: walking, gardening, meditation, or enjoying some Tasaka Guri Guri with friends.

SET GOALS

Set goals to take care of yourself. It could be 10 minutes every day to walk around, a one-hour break from caregiving each week, or watching a favorite show with no distractions.

GET PROPER REST AND NUTRITION

Remember that taking care of yourself requires you to rest, and to eat a healthy, balanced meal at least three times a day.

TAKE TIME OFF WITHOUT FEELING GUILTY

Take time off from caregiving. Caregiving is tough and you need a break. Stepping away from your caregiver role for a day or weekend is OK. Your loved one will benefit when you are refreshed.

SEEK AND ACCEPT THE SUPPORT OF OTHERS

Seek and accept the support of others, listen for PSAs on local radio stations that talk more about Maui’s courageous caregivers, express your appreciation to friends or family for the caregiving they provide, and give yourself credit (and a break) for all you do to keep Maui’s keiki and kupuna safe and loved.

One of the best local resources for family caregivers is the Maui County Office on Aging’s Aging and Disability Resource Center (ADRC). It is a one-stop shop for older adults and their families. ADRC staff can conduct an extensive needs assessment and refer families to community resources that are tailored to their individual needs, such as home-delivered meals, respite services, adult day care centers, personal care services and much more. Their website is www.mauicountyadrc.org and their phone number on Maui is 270-7774, Molokai is 553-5241, or Lanai is 565-6818.

* Today’s guest columnist is Jaelyn Takiguchi, a master’s in public health practicum student with University of Hawaii Manoa Extension, Kahului Office. “Aging Matters” covers topics of interest to the aging Maui community and appears on the third Sunday of each month.