Caregivers need to take time for themselves

A growing number of Americans are being called on to be a caregiver.

A 2009 National Alliance for Caregiving study found that 67.1 million people — 31 percent of all households — are caregivers, providing on average 20 hours of care per week.

While many family caregivers don’t receive financial compensation for their efforts, that doesn’t mean their services are without cost. Being a caregiver can affect income, advancement and retirement benefits.

Plus, those caring for an older relative often have more health problems themselves.

Consider these tips for caregivers:

• Take care of yourself. Get enough rest, eat properly and exercise.

• Don’t try to do it all. Share caregiving duties with family members or friends who are willing to help.

• Take some time for yourself — read a book, go out to dinner, spend an evening with friends or engage in a hobby or activity that helps renew your spirit.

• Join a support group of people with similar interests or concerns about the caregiving experience. Many helpful resources are available online or through agencies and organizations.

• Be sensitive to signs of stress or fatigue, such as changes in personal habits or use of alcohol or prescription/nonprescription medications.

• Listen to family and friends who have your best interest at heart if they express concern. Check with a medical or mental health professional.