How to Care for a Loved One When You Are Sick Yourself

Q. I am a new caregiver for my mother, who has had Parkinson’s for nearly a decade.  My father passed away recently, so now it’s just me, my mom, my two children, and my husband, who travels frequently for work. We have no other family living nearby, unfortunately.

Last year, I had the flu and my son gets constant ear infections, so he has his own needs. I am feeling overwhelmed, and I know that stress can make you more susceptible to getting sick. What do you recommend I do to care for my mother, my son, and myself at the same time, especially if I should fall ill?

A. While you are caring for your mother and your children, your needs can easily go unmet. Similar to your situation, many primary caregivers are family members who have been suddenly thrust into a demanding role, when they’re already overwhelmed. As you mentioned, this makes you, as the caregiver, even more vulnerable to stress and to getting sick.

Dr. Keith L. Black, Chairman of the Department of Neurosurgery and Director of the Neurological Institute at Cedar-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, believes that caregivers often don’t recognize their own health needs because they are so focused on their loved ones. He warns that caregiver stress can compromise one’s immune system, which can then lead to all kinds of health problems, from minor to very serious. For instance, stress contributes to a heightened risk ofover-stimulating the production of inflammatory chemicals in their body, which can lead to the cold, flu, or other more serious ailments, such as arthritis, diabetes or even heart disease. A weak immune system can also make vaccines, such as flu shots, less effective.

Signs of Caregiver Stress

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services suggests looking for the following signs of stress (listed below). If you are experiencing any of the following symptoms, it may be time to pay more attention to your own health, seek assistance in your role, and get some medical care and/or respite care.

•Feeling worried or sad often;

•Feeling overwhelmed;

•Sleeping too much or too little;

•Having trouble eating or eating too much;

•Losing interest in things you used to enjoy;

•Feeling alone, isolated, or deserted by others;

•Feeling tired most of the time;

•Becoming easily irritated or angered;

•Having headaches or body aches often.

Taking steps to relieve your stress can help prevent health problems. Also, taking care of yourself helps you take better care of your loved one and enjoy the rewards of caregiving.

If you are sick. . .

In case you do get sick or are unable to be there for your loved one, you should have a backup plan. The first important step is to identify people who are ready, willing, and able to step in should you be away for any length of time. Make a list of these potential substitute caregivers and keep a copy/give each person copies of the following:

• an emergency contact list of relatives, friends, neighbors and times they might be available should their assistance be needed.

• a list of pre-screened, competent home health care agencies that you are comfortable calling or your stand-in can call for help. These people are trained and can provide all required in-home assistance.

• a list of all your loved one’s medications, and how and when to administer them. Be sure the substitute is cleared to receive prescriptions from the pharmacy.

• a list of any dietary restrictions and food/drug interactions.

• a list of the doctors, their locations and contact numbers plus a schedule of doctor’s visits. Make sure your substitute is cleared to speak with medical professionals. A HIPAA Waiver, which our office can prepare, is typically required.

• an overview of the patient’s medical history, timeline of events, or diary of activities so that the substitute can be up to speed with their regimen and adequately communicate with doctors.

Preventing Caregiver Stress So You Don’t Get Sick

Feeling under the weather may be unavoidable, but you can help avert your own debilitating health problems in the first place by taking steps to take care of yourself. Here are some tips to help you prevent or manage caregiver stress:

Exercise regularly. Exercise reduces stress and depression and helps keep you fit,

Eat a good, balanced diet with smart food choices that protect you from heart disease, bone loss and high blood pressure,

Get regular sleep,

•Ease your mood by taking slow, deep breaths, listen to soothing music, take a relaxing bath,

Make time for yourself. Go away and do something you enjoy (see a movie, gather with friends, etc.)

See your doctor for regular checkups. Make sure to tell your doctor or nurse you are a caregiver. Also, tell him or her about any symptoms of depression or sickness you may have.

Learn ways to better help your loved one. Some hospitals and County Aging Agencies offer classes that can teach you how to care for someone with an injury or illness. To find these classes, ask your doctor or call your local Area Agency on Aging.

Find caregiving resources in your community to help you. Many communities have adult daycare services or respite services to give primary caregivers a break from their caregiving duties.

Ask for and accept help. Make a list of ways others can help you. Let helpers choose what they would like to do. For instance, someone might sit with the person you care for while you do an errand. Someone else might pick up groceries for you.

Join a support group for caregivers. You can find a general caregiver support group or a group with caregivers who care for someone with the same illness or disability as your loved one. You can share stories, pick up caregiving tips, and get support from others who face the same challenges as you do.

•Get organized. Make to-do lists, and set a daily routine.

If you are a caregiver, be sure to listen to your body and brain. While you may believe it’s best to pour all your energy and time toward caring for your loved one, if it’s at the expense of your own health, it will affect the quality of your life and your ability to provide care.

Sandwich Generation Caregivers Should Plan in Advance

Caring for kids and parents at the same time is extremely challenging. However, there are ways to work around the challenges. With a bit of planning, it can be done successfully. To do your own planning, or to help plan for the future needs of your parents, please call us to make an appointment for an initial consultation:

Fairfax Medicaid Asset Protection Attorney: 703-691-1888
Fredericksburg Medicaid Asset Protection Attorney: 540-479-1435
Rockville Medicaid Asset Protection Attorney: 301- 519-8041
DC Medicaid Asset Protection Attorney: 202-587-2797

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About Evan H Farr, CELA, CAP

Evan H. Farr is a 4-time Best-Selling author in the field of Elder Law and Estate Planning. In addition to being one of approximately 500 Certified Elder Law Attorneys in the Country, Evan is one of approximately 100 members of the Council of Advanced Practitioners of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys and is a Charter Member of the Academy of Special Needs Planners.