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Caregivers Need to Care for Themselves

According to the Administration on Aging (AoA), millions of Americans are involved in some form of helping elderly family members or friends with their daily routines. Numbers of caregivers range from 33 million to over 50 million. Exact numbers are not known because caregivers often do not identify themselves with this role. In addition, there is no standard definition of "caregiver," so research studies use a variety of descriptions that influence the estimates.

No matter the numbers, if you're part of this group, whether you call yourself a caregiver, or simply a good daughter or son, you know that caring for an aging parent or friend has its rewards and its trials. If you are a caregiver, or expect to be one someday, the following are tips to help you cope.

Prepare for Care

While your loved ones are still able to manage aspects of their daily lives, have a frank conversation with them about caregiving plans. If you are an adult child caring for a parent and have other siblings, ask the sibling who is most comfortable with the parent to discuss the subject with him or her. If you're caring for a spouse, initiate the topic by talking about the type of care you'd prefer for yourself (for example, an assisted living apartment). Don't assume that the method of care you want is also what your loved one wants.

Find a Geriatric Care Manager

Care managers help families devise strategies to meet an older loved one's caregiving needs. You can find one through the National Association of Professional Geriatric Care Managers. The organization's website is at www.caremanager.org. Locally, you can call area agencies for referrals. Look in the phone book under "older adults" or "senior citizens." Be very careful to check references and credentials before hiring anyone to care for your family member. Use the National Center on Caregiving's Family Care Locator or the AoA to find resources in your state.

Allocate Responsibilities

Caregivers need to delegate specific responsibilities to others. Establish a schedule and say, for example, "On Sunday, you can take Mom to church; on Monday, you can drive her to the store," and so forth.

Try to Keep a Balance in Your Life

A burned-out caregiver isn't much help to anyone. Try to get enough sleep; exhaustion is a common complaint among caregivers. Get regular exercise. Exercise helps relieve stress, gives you a break from caregiving responsibilities, and keeps depression at bay.