Caring For Dependent Relatives - Survival Guide
By Aislinn O'Connor
Caring for dependent relatives, often elderly parents or special-needs children, can be one of the most isolating experiences most people ever have to face. Becoming a carer can sometimes be rewarding, but it's hardly ever easy. Here are some tips to help you to survive it.
1) Get all the help and benefits you can. Many people are too proud to ask for help, and many more don't even know what help's available. In the UK, for example, it's believed that £750 million of benefits available to carers are unclaimed. No matter how much you love the person that you're caring for, in terms of both lost income and financial outlay, caring costs you, big-time.
Many people aren't aware of how much till they're in financial difficulty. If you don't know what's available to you, ask your doctor where you can find out. It's not just about money, either. Sometimes practical help, like wheelchairs, disabled access ramps, hand-rails and alarm buttons, can be made available at no cost, or at least reduced rates.
2) Get all the emotional and practical support you can, too. Caring can be a very lonely life, and friends can start to disappear when you're not so readily available for evenings out, etc. Even those who stay the course can find it hard to listen to the things you feel the need to talk about, and you're likely to find their conversation very trivial compared to what you're dealing with.
It's a good idea to have the company at least occasionally of people who understand because they're doing what you're doing. If there's a local support group, it's a good idea to check it out - if not, it's worth looking for a carers' discussion group online.
3) Make sure you get some time off. This is absolutely vital, and not likely to be offered unless you make a point of saying that you need it. It's no reflection on your abilities as a carer, or your love for the person that you're caring for, but you need to take at least some care of yourself if you're going to take effective care of anybody else.
Try to arrange for someone to take your place for a few hours at the weekend, for example, or else to get the person that you're caring for into a day center for a couple of afternoons a week. You might be able to arrange for respite care, as well, which means the person that you're caring for is taken into hospital for one or two weeks every year to let you have a holiday.
This is not being selfish, merely realistic. Caring for someone can very tiring, both physically and emotionally, so you need to be able to recharge your batteries as often as you can.
4) Keep up some interests of your own, and make sure you have at least some social life, even if it's mainly chatting to your friends by phone or e-mail.
Caring can very easily come to dominate your life, and if you have no other interests to give you a balanced perspective your morale can very quickly go to pieces. Many carers understandably fall victim to depression, and you won't do yourself or the person that you care for any favors by becoming one of them.
It can be hard to organize, but try to spend at least a little time each day doing something for yourself, even if it's just spending an hour reading while the person that you're caring for is sleeping. YOU have a life, as well, and the right to some enjoyment.
5) It's important that you keep your self-esteem high. Caring is demanding, and it's all too easy to let your mind fill with the difficulties of your situation rather than all the good things you're achieving in it.
Focus each day on something that's gone well for you. It doesn't matter if it's quite a small thing - all carers know that even a small victory in such a demanding situation is a great achievement.
Relax deeply every day to banish stress, and train yourself to flood your mind with pleasant images before you go to sleep. It takes some practice, but it's the best way of waking up refreshed and ready for the new day.
Above all, don't be too hard on yourself if you feel you're not the perfect carer. No-one is. All you can do is the best that YOU can do. No-one can ask for more.
About the Author
Aislinn O'Connor is a motivational writer and personal development coach. For more tips and tools to help you to enjoy the happy and successful life that is your birthright, visit her website at http://www.access-your-peak-performance-zone.com
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