The average age of caregivers is 49, and nearly one in ten is 75 or older.

While caregiving can be rewarding it’s also difficult. In fact, the Caregiving in the U.S. report also found that those almost one quarter of caregivers report declining health as a result of caregiving. 

That’s why the National Institute on Aging stresses that “taking care of yourself is one of the most important things you can do as a caregiver.”  Failing to pay attention to your own needs can lead to “caregiver burnout.” As the Cleveland Clinic explains on their website, that’s a state of physical, emotional and mental exhaustion and may include fatigue, stress, anxiety and depression. 

The bottom line: if you want to continue to be an effective caregiver to someone you love it’s vital that you make yourself a priority, too. Here are some ways that may help prevent caregiver burnout:
  1. Acknowledge that you’re a caregiver.“Your parents don’t have to be living with you or your spouse doesn’t need to be really ill for you to be a part of the caregiving world,” says Jennifer L. FitzPatrick, MSW, author of Cruising Through Caregiving: Reducing the Stress of Caring for your Loved One. “Caregiving means somebody is depending on you for some kind of health or emotional need.”
  2. Reach out to others.Jonathan March, owner of a caregiving service in Bradenton, Forida likes to remind the exhausted men and women he sees, “You can do anything, but you can’t do everything.” Ask for help when you need it, whether that means having someone bring over a meal a couple of times a week, help with grocery shopping, or simply having an aid sit with your loved one for a few hours so you can take a break.
  3. Safeguard your own health. Keep up with regular visits to the doctors, maintain an exercise program, eat healthy and don’t skimp on sleep.
  4. Schedule “me” time. “When you’re a caregiver, it’s easy to put what refreshes you on the back burner,” FitzPatrick says. “That may be going for a hike, attending church or reading a book. A lot of caregivers report feeling guilty if they take time for themselves. But you’re going to have more energy and be able to be of more benefit to your loved one if you set some boundaries and don’t lose sight of who you are outside of your role as a caregiver.”
  5. Become a member of a community. Whether it’s having a standing monthly dinner or museum date with friends who are also caregivers or joining a more formal support group, “sharing your feelings and experiences with others in the same situation,” reports the Cleveland Clinic, “can help you manage stress, locate helpful resources, and reduce feelings of frustration and isolation.” 
For more tips on protecting caregiver health, visit the website of the Family Caregiver Alliance.

The Alzheimer’s Disease Caregiver Support Initiative provides free support services to caregivers of loved ones with Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia. The American Heart Association offers similar resources for caregivers dealing with heart disease or stroke and you can find the American Cancer Society’s “Caregiver Resource Guide” and other helpful information on their Caregivers and Family page.