By: Keyteshia Guy, MD, Internal Medicine, CareMount Medical
February 11, 2021
Amidst the pandemic, health experts remind us to maintain self-care, seek attention for health emergencies and issues, and keep up with regular health check-ups. But what do you do if you are a caregiver to an adult or child with special needs due to chronic and/or debilitating illness or disability?
Frequently, I see and hear from patients who are caregivers, not professionally trained for that role but, doing it because of circumstance, need and/or love. Some are struggling to maintain balance between their own physical and emotional health with that of the person they are taking care of. It’s very concerning when caregivers delay attending to, or altogether ignore, their own medical needs. This can result in worsening existing, or developing new, health issues. From an emotional standpoint, caregivers may feel overwhelmed, stressed, angry and depressed. Caregivers need to know that it’s not okay to ignore their own health needs and that is okay to express their frustrations and feelings.
Scheduling an office or virtual visit with your primary care provider and talking openly with him or her is a good place to start. Not only should your doctor be familiar with your medical history, it’s important for them to know what else is going on in your life – like being a caregiver – that may affect your overall health. Open up and be specific about how you are feeling emotionally and physically without fear of being judged. That way, your provider can best provide useful tips for caring for yourself and guide you to resources dedicated to caregivers.
Here are a few tips to support your physical and emotional health:
• Don’t neglect your medical issues. If you are unable to leave the person you are caring for, schedule a virtual visit with your provider or an urgent care provider, who can assess your condition and determine if treatment can be prescribed virtually.
• Stay on top of chronic conditions like asthma, diabetes, and heart disease. Don’t forget to refill prescription medications. Find a pharmacy that will deliver these plus O-T-C items to you.
• Schedule your own medical appointments that require an in-office visit well in advance, so you can arrange for an alternate caregiver if necessary. Similarly, if you are being treated for cancer, don’t skip chemotherapy or follow-up appointments unless instructed by your physician.
• Don’t go it alone. Stay in touch with friends and loved ones via video chats, email, texting and even good old fashioned phone calls.
• Every day, routinely schedule “me time”: keep moving by joining an online exercise or yoga class; cook a favorite meal; meditate or listen to calming music; get enough sleep; be mindful and calm your soul.
• Explore the many caregiver resources and support groups for information that can help you as well as the person you are caring for. Start at the National Institutes of Health website. You can find Resources for Caregivers at the US Department of Health & Human Services. Another great site for Caregiver Support is USA.gov.
• Know when and accept that it’s ok to seek help.