Caring for a dying loved one is a remarkable responsibility and the truest form of selflessness. It’s also far from easy. The physical and, of course, emotional sacrifices it demands of you can become overwhelming. Here, we offer you, the noble family caregiver, some tips on how to provide the best care for the person you’re losing, without losing yourself.
- Know your own health risks
Even if you have always been a specimen of perfect health, family caregivers of all makes and models often experience sleep deprivation; develop poor eating habits; stop exercising; and turn to using alcohol, tobacco and drugs. As a result, they run a greater risk of developing a chronic illness, having high blood pressure or becoming overweight. What’s more, between 46 to 69 percent of caregivers are clinically depressed, according to the Family Caregiver Alliance. A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association revealed that caregivers between the ages of 66 and 96 have a 68 percent higher risk of dying than non-caregivers in that age range.
It’s important to recognize the warning signs that can lead to these conditions. If you’re not sleeping, eating poorly or skipping meals, abusing alcohol or drugs, or are extremely irritable, you need a break. It’s OK to take time for yourself. After all, if you make yourself sick, or worse, for the sake of your loved one, you won’t be much good to them.
- Acknowledge the positives
Caring for someone at the end of their life is heavy lifting, but you don’t have to do the lifting all at once. Acknowledge all of the little things that make a positive impact. Like going on a walk with your loved one, giving them a bath, making a meal for the two of you and eating it together, reading to them, and so on. In death, as in life, it’s the little moments that make all the difference. But at the same time, don’t sweat the small stuff. Stay focused on the good.
- Give yourself a break
You don’t have to do this alone. You shouldn’t do this alone. Ask for help and accept help when it’s offered. Look to your family and friends to lend a hand with things like making a meal — even if it’s just for you — or picking up items from the store or handling the house chores. Having an extra pair of hands allows you to get some sleep or tend to any of the other responsibilities you still have outside of caring for your loved one. It’s OK to take a break; there are people who have your back.
- Make sure affairs are in order
The stress of being a family caregiver doesn’t end when your loved one dies. There is a slew of matters to face after death. In order to simplify things and allow you to grieve appropriately, it’s best to make sure all of your loved one’s affairs are in order and their wishes met. Some things to consider are:
- funeral and burial arrangements
- making sure there is an up-to-date will (trust) and powers of attorney
- your loved one’s last wishes, like personal goals or projects that are important to them
- other concerns unique to your family, like any family disagreements
If you need help sorting through all the legal and personal issues that come with the end of life, we’re here to help. By making sure their wishes are carried out, your loved one can die peacefully, knowing that you were taking care of them at every turn – and that you took care of yourself, too.