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By Lisa Caplan, LCSW-C

The day may come when you wake up and realize that your time is no longer your own and you need to care for your elderly parents.  Helping to downsize their house, handling bills, and many other day to day tasks that they once managed on their own are now falling on you.   If you have ever cared for an elderly parent you will know that it takes an emotional toll that can affect your physical and mental well-being. 

I can understand this because I have been in the care taking role myself.  It seemed like everything changed overnight. My parents went from highly functioning and traveling all the time, to needing care from my sister and I.  My sister and I find ourselves taking on more and more responsibilities, leaving little time for self-care. It’s easy to lose yourself in all the added responsibility, and not budget time for yourself.

Caregivers tend to put themselves last. Signs of taking on too much may include feeling isolated, stressed, overwhelmed, depressed, anxious, angry and resentful. Think of the airline analogy of putting your own oxygen mask on first before helping others.  If you don’t take care of yourself you won’t be able to care for anyone else.

Here are some tips on how to care for yourself while caring for your loved ones.

  • Breathe.  As long as you are alive you can breathe and it is a powerful way to stay grounded. Often we don’t even realize we are holding our breath.  Intentionally stop what you are doing and just breathe.
  • Take a step back and make a list of your parents’ needs for now and in the near future. This list will help you navigate what tasks are important for you to do and what someone else can do. Update this list periodically.  It will help you stay grounded as well as ensure you are doing the important things first. Delegate tasks. If you have help from other family members, have a meeting to discuss care.  
  • Look into getting outside help.  Realize others can provide safe care for your parents. 
  • Everyone needs a break. Make a list of what your needs are. Prioritize, looking at your personal needs first like exercise, family, friends, hobbies, etc. Find something that keeps you energized and schedule it into your day. 
  • You don’t have to do it all yourself.  If friends or family offer help or support, say “Yes”, and  take them up on it.  Whether it’s cooking, cleaning or keeping you company. You will need other people’s support to stay healthy. My sister and I plan to help my parents on the same day so we have support.  We also plan something fun around helping them like going for a walk or meeting for lunch.  This helps us stay sane. 
  • Learn to say, “No” and set boundaries.  Take things off your plate. If someone asks you to do something, wait 24 hours before deciding if you can add more to your plate. It’s survival and not selfish to take care of yourself. 
  • Find a support group. You need a safe place to express your feelings and concerns. It can be an informal group of friends who get together over coffee, or a formal one run by a professional.  There is also online information and support through facebook, blogs, etc.  
  • Make an appointment with a Geriatric/Aging Life Care Manager. This is a professional who can help you navigate the resources available for your loved one and provide the support you need along the way.  
  • Don’t use addictive behaviors to self-medicate.  Not taking care of yourself can lead to a vicious cycle of not taking care of yourself. This can lead to behaviors that might feel like a quick fix but are really a band aid that ends up hurting you and everyone around you instead of helping.
  • Take a break. Use respite care to care for your elderly parent in order to take care of yourself. You need to have a life outside of your caregiving duties. Respite care can be short-term, in a hospital center, senior day care or a residential facility. 
  • Having a positive outlook goes a long way. If you are upset, tense, and irritable find a relaxation method that works for you.   This might be yoga, crocheting, reading, exercise, a mindfulness app.
  • Get professional help. It can be helpful to talk to an objective person.

For more tips on wellness check out the Wellness Portal https://www.msba.org/wellness-portal/

For assistance, please contact the Lawyer Assistance Program for free, confidential counseling. We have a network of counselors that can assist you no matter what state you are living in. Lisa Caplan, LCSW-C, Director, (443) 703-3042, lisa@msba.org.Toll Free 1(888) 388-5459.  We offer financial assistance for mental health and substance abuse treatment. Please feel free to reach out to our LAP Committee Members and Volunteers https://www.msba.org/health-and-wellness/

Lisa Caplan, LCSW-C has over 20 years experience in her field, and extensive experience working with lawyers and judges in the areas of mental health, substance abuse and trauma. In her free time she enjoys spending time with family and friends, paddle boarding, sailing, rock climbing and doing triathlons.