As a caregiver, you have probably heard this countless times: “You must care for yourself in order to care for others.” You have most likely heard this statement from a health care professional when advising you about managing your arthritis symptoms. When you are a caregiver, meeting your own health needs in addition to those of the person you are caring for can be a challenge.
There are a myriad of challenges (physical, emotional, or financial) you can encounter as a caregiver who also experiences a chronic disease like arthritis.
In this article, we will address the three most common physical challenges of living with arthritis and provide some practical solutions to help you continue the great work you do as a caregiver.
Research shows that on average, most caregivers are women between the ages of 40 and 50 who are working outside the home while caring for an aging family member or parent. Add to this schedule a chronic condition like rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia, inflammatory arthritis, etc. and this often causes physical fatigue which can be a recipe for disaster. What can you do?
- Avoid staying up late to watch TV, keep the room temperature low, and make your bedroom as dark as possible so you can get a good night’s sleep.
- Maintain healthy, regular eating habits.
- Take 10 – 15 minutes each day for regular exercise. Research shows that even just low intensity walking can help significantly to reduce fatigue in people with arthritis.
- See your health care professional if the feeling of exhaustion is not improving
Increased joint and muscle pain
Being a caregiver may involve demanding physical activity such as assisting with transfers, supporting someone when walking, and in general being more “active.” This additional stress can aggravate inflammation causing your arthritis symptoms (pain and/or stiffness) to worsen. What can you do?
- Engage the person you are caring for and encourage them to assist as much as they can with the physical tasks. Trying to do everything for the person can create “excess disability” as it further decreases their abilities and self-esteem.
- Whenever the task to be done is physical (carrying or lifting for instance), ensure that you are using your larger muscle groups (biceps, quads). This will help take some of the strain off your joints. For example, when carrying a large container of water, it’s recommended that you hold the container handle with one hand while supporting the weight by placing your other hand or arm beneath container.
Doing tasks that are not safe
In hospitals or care facilities, there are trained staff to handle physical tasks that are difficult such as assisting with transfers, bathing, and other activities of daily living. Many caregivers will attempt these physical tasks alone (along with many other difficult duties) simply because they feel they have to or that no one else will do them. What can you do?
- Create a list of caregiving tasks that you feel need to be done and consult with your health care professional (i.e. doctor, nurse practitioner, physiotherapist, and/or occupational therapist) to determine if it is safe for you to continue providing the physical aspects of caregiving.
- Enlist the help of family and friends or consider employing a home health care provider to help you with these more difficult tasks.
- Reconsider the type of support/assistance you are providing. Emotional support is as essential as providing physical support.
Check out The Arthritis Society for some exercises to help relieve arthritis symptoms.