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Supporting caregivers during the holidays

AGING MATTERS

This month marks the 25th year since the White House first proclaimed November as National Family Caregiver Month. It is time to celebrate, thank and help the caregivers who provide physical, emotional and financial care to their loved ones.

Did you know that in Hawaii:

• 1 in 5 adults are caregivers to friends or family with a variety of health conditions.

• 50 percent have been providing care to their friends or family for over two years.

• 1 in 7 adults expect to become caregivers within the next two years, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

November is also the beginning of a busy holiday season that can be very stressful for caregivers and their loved ones. Whether you are currently caregiving, expect to become a caregiver soon or know someone who is a caregiver, consider some of the following strategies during this holiday season.

Identify warning signs of stress. What happens when you are experiencing stress? Does your heart begin to race? Do your eating habits change? Or do you have difficulty concentrating? Common signs of caregiver stress include fatigue, losing or gaining weight, feeling sad, frequent headaches and becoming easily irritated or angry. Many caregivers have learned to ignore their signs of stress which can lead to added health problems down the road. By identifying and writing down specific warning signs, caregivers can notice their early signs of stress and take action.

Identify sources of stress. These may or may not be holiday related. Common examples include disrupted sleep, too many responsibilities, disagreements with family or your care receiver or unreasonable caregiving expectations. Some of the sources of stress cannot be changed but writing them down can help the caregiver and their family to address specific stressors together.

Brainstorm strategies for addressing stress. Action steps may include immediate responses to stressful events, such deep breathing, or longer-term responses that address or change a source of stress. The Mayo Clinic offers many suggestions for family caregivers in their article “Caregiver Stress” at go.hawaii.edu/R8V. The following are just a few:

• Set realistic goals. Break down large tasks into smaller, more manageable steps. Make lists, prioritize and give yourself permission to say no to requests that are not realistic.

• Connect with support. Maui County has excellent organizations and agencies that provide caregiver resources. One of the first stops is the Maui County Office on Aging. Their website, www.maui countyadrc.org, provides an overview of the services they offer and an extensive resource directory at go.hawaii.edu/V8i.

• Accept help. Have a list of tasks that others can do to help you. These may include running errands, preparing a meal, going on a walk together or staying with your loved one while you take some time for yourself.

• Practice self-care. Taking care of yourself is critical – both during and after the holiday season. Others depend on you to stay healthy. Think of it as the most important gift you can give to your family and your care receiver.

Take action. Choose one step you can take today to address some aspect of caregiver stress. When that step is completed, choose another one.

Whatever your caregiving situation, consider taking at least one step to make this holiday season and the new year a healthy and happy one for you, your care receiver and all those you love.

* Heather Greenwood Junkermeier is with the University of Hawaii Manoa Cooperative Extension, Maui Intergenerational and Aging Programs. Aging Matters covers topics of interest to the aging Maui community and appears on the third Saturday of each month.

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