- Following his wife’s stroke, John’s arthritis has flared-up because of helping her move and doing all the housework. The usual medications haven’t been effective and pain has been keeping John up at night. A few drinks are his only real source of relief.
- Her daughter was horrified when she discovered that Ruth hasn’t seen her doctor in several years. Considering her recent fainting spell and family history of heart problems, Ruth knows her daughter’s right to be worried. But as a dementia caregiver, it seems impossible to find time for herself.
How about you? Are you experiencing aches and pains, injuries or flare-ups of chronic illnesses, yet finding it difficult to make time to take care of your symptoms? Are these impacting your mood, sleep or ability to care? If so, try these health strategies to build your resilience and protect your health.
How Caring for Your Health Builds Resilience
Resilience is your ability to cope well and carry on in the face of adversity. It is a caregiver’s innate ability to respond to strains and changes, and keep on caring. Building resilience is necessary, not discretionary; you can’t help if you can’t function.
Common sense says that healthy bodies are better able to function and handle adversity. Research bears this out.
Concerned about the impact of intense, sustained conflicts on US armed forces, military leaders developed a new, holistic approach to preserving health and accelerating healing of soldiers.
Like warriors, many caregivers handle intense situations over long periods of time. The military’s universally sound, resilience-building principles promote stamina, strength and successful coping.
Research by Southwick and Charney (2009) outlines ten qualities of resilient people. Training for physical fitness is one. It improves general health, and prevents or diminishes the effects of chronic illnesses like hypertension, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, stroke and arthritis. Fitness helps master physical challenges and improves mood, thinking, sleep and emotional regulation. For more, read this “Resilience Prescription”, particularly items 8 and 9.
Research shows self-care choices shape your life; you become what you choose. Choosing healthy behaviors promotes well-being and improves functioning. In contrast, ignoring self-care can compromise health, making it harder to effectively cope and function.
Practical Ways to Protect Your Health
While many caregivers encourage loved ones to manage their health by visiting the doctor, scheduling preventive screenings for seniors, or monitoring medications, caregivers often neglect their own health. Don’t put your health at risk. Take steps to:
- Access quality health care
This is the critical first step in protecting your health. Healthcare insurance provides access to care and it comes through employer-provided or government plans: Medicare, Medicaid, the Children’s Health Insurance Program or Veterans Administration benefits. Without some form of insurance, preventive screenings and health care services are out of reach for most people.
Enrollment for Medicare can be done online. http://www.ssa.gov/medicare/apply.html. For information about applying for Medicare, visit: http://www.ssa.gov/retire2/justmedicare.htm. For Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program, apply directly to these agencies in your state. If you qualify, coverage can begin immediately.
If you qualify for Veterans’ health benefits, contact the US Department of Veterans Affairs http://www.va.gov/healthbenefits/. The simplest way to apply is by submitting an online application at: https://www.1010ez.med.va.gov/.
For millions of Americans without access to employer-based or other government plans, The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) has made it possible to obtain affordable health insurance. Open enrollment for 2015 ACA coverage starts on November 15th and closes on February 15th. https://www.healthcare.gov/get-coverage/
To help people with new coverage, the Federal government’s Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) has created From Coverage to Care. The cornerstone of this initiative is an eight-step roadmap intended to guide the newly insured through the process of getting health care. The steps include:
Step 1: Put your health first
Step 2: Understand your health coverage
Step 3: Know where to go for care
Step 4: Pick a provider
Step 5: Make an appointment
Step 6: Be prepared for your visit
Step 7: Decide if the provider is right for you
Step 8: Next steps after your appointment
CMS has developed a host of helpful written resources that are free, downloadable and available in English and Spanish: http://marketplace.cms.gov/technical-assistance-resources/c2c.html. An 11-part video series of the Roadmap is also available in Spanish and English. With questions or feedback, email: email@example.com.
- Prevent health problems
Protect your health with preventive care and screenings. They decrease the risk for developing serious illnesses and increase the likelihood of finding conditions early, when they are most manageable.
Every year, millions of Americans die of preventable deaths. Leading causes include: chronic diseases like diabetes, cardiovascular and respiratory illnesses; unintentional injuries and certain infections. Prevent health problems with these simple, yet effective lifestyle choices:
- Eating a balanced diet
- Maintaining a healthy weight
- Exercising regularly
- Not smoking or using other tobacco products
- Limiting intake of alcohol
- Washing your hands
- Wearing seatbelts each time you ride in a vehicle
- Getting recommended immunizations
Learn more about preventive care:
In addition to healthy lifestyle choices, preventive health care is a critically important way of maintaining your resilience and capacity to care. Regularly visit a primary care provider to check for potential problems with screenings that include:
- Dental, vision and hearing tests
- Cancer checks: Skin, colorectal, breast, cervical, testicular and prostate cancer
- Obesity, blood pressure, cholesterol, diabetes, infectious diseases screens
- For women, bone density tests
View detailed guidelines at: http://www.bluecrossma.com/common/en_US/pdfs/New_SOB/50-0057_Adult_Screening_Guidelines.pdf
- Manage health problems
Chronic conditions, physical injuries and related pain deplete energy and make it harder to care for others. Chronic conditions are long-lasting, and can be controlled but not cured. Examples include:
- Back and neck pain
- Heart disease and high blood pressure
- Mental health problems
- Substance abuse
Although chronic conditions are among the most common and costly health problems, they are also among the most preventable and most can be effectively controlled. Untreated or poorly managed, pain, injuries and chronic conditions can limit your stamina and physical capabilities; lead to depression; and disrupt family and work-life.
Proper diagnosis, treatment, physical rehab and supportive therapies are crucial. Be proactive about managing your health. For additional information, check-out these links:
Health Strategies for Resilient Caregivers
Acknowledging the importance of your own health isn’t difficult, but it’s often difficult finding time for self-care. Remember that you can’t help if you can’t function. Don’t let sickness or injury keep you from providing the care you want to give. Use these health strategies.
Whatever you do for your own health will be good for both you and those in your care. As you do so much for others, remember to take good care of yourself, too….Jane