Caregivers Need Care, Too

Caregivers Need Care, Too

Whether you're caring for aging parents, your spouse or your kids—be sure to take good care of yourself.

Nothing prepared Pat Nixon for the day in February 2011 when her husband, Stan, only 61 at the time, suffered a massive stroke. Now paralyzed on his right side, he also suffered brain damage because his stroke occurred in the pons, or brainstem, which governs consciousness and communication between the brain and the body. “My entire life changed that day, and it will never be the same,” Nixon says. 

After one month in rehab—the most time their insurance covered—Stan came home, and Nixon has been a full-time caregiver ever since. “He needs help with everything,” says Nixon. “My days are spent helping him dress, and doing everything else. I don't leave him except to go for groceries or prescription refills,” she says. “I don't go to bed at night until I've given him his meds and put him to bed. I do this every single day.” 

Despite the hardships, Nixon says “I wouldn’t change my decision today if I had to do it all over.” 

No one who finds themselves in the role of full-time caregiver ever expected to be there. Yet 65 million people in the United States alone are family caregivers according to the National Family Caregivers Association. They spend their days and nights caring for elderly parents, spouses and children, usually unpaid and too often un-thanked. 

If you’re a caregiver, try these tips for taking care of yourself: 

  • Call on family and friends. It’s okay to ask for help. Hold a family meeting to discuss your loved one’s condition, and give specific ways everyone can pitch in. 
  • Explore local resources. Half of all caregivers try to go it alone, often because they don’t know what support services are available. Find out what services your community provides. Adult day services, hired companions, certified nurse aides and home health aides can all help in a number of ways, from preparing meals to providing transportation and even light housekeeping. 
  • Watch for signs of burnout. Caregiving can take a tremendous toll on your own health. Learn to recognize the warning signs of burnout, and know when to let others help you. 

Medically reviewed in January 2020. Updated in March 2021

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