Lifestyle

Staying Healthy as a Care Partner

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The following article is excerpted from Healthy Aging® Magazine. To continue reading this article and more like it, subscribe to Healthy Aging® Magazine, the lifestyle magazine that is all about following your passion and what you can do rather than what you can’t.

Being a care partner for a loved one can be meaningful, but this role’s stress can also be exhausting. Finding the time and energy to care for yourself while being a care partner is difficult, but it is important to be intentional with your own physical and mental health. In the Parkinson’s Foundation course, Care Partner Program: Staying Healthy as a Care Partner, Amy Goyer, AARP’s Family and Caregiving Expert, answers the most common questions about staying healthy as a care partner to a person with Parkinson’s disease (PD).

Why should care partners prioritize their health?

It can be easy to ignore your needs while being a care partner, but your health is just as important as your loved one’s. Care partners often prioritize those who need care over themselves. This can result in caregiver burnout.

Like a car, we cannot run on empty. You have to keep putting gas in your car. It is not a one-time thing. The same is true for yourself — you are going to run out of energy if you do not make time to care for yourself. Self-care is necessary for caring for your loved one and staying healthy. Remember that healthy habits sustain us. You and your loved one are on the same team. As a team, you are taking care of them and yourself. Be honest and discuss your needs together.

What can care partners do daily to ensure their loved one’s needs are met without derailing their day?

Many find it helpful to start their day with an expectation of interruptions. As a care partner, it is vital to nurture your ability to be flexible and expect the unexpected. Flexibility will mean these interruptions do not feel as unsettling, but rather every interruption is an obstacle that can be anticipated and addressed. It is important to expect that you will need more help as your loved symptoms progress, so you can continue to live your life.

It is important to manage your time and establish a self-care routine. Many care partners view their self-care routine as unimportant, but self-care is key to a healthy lifestyle. Everyone’s self-care routine and timing are unique, but just because your loved one’s needs may increase does not mean your needs are decreasing. Sometimes, your routine is interrupted, but it is important to return to your self-care routine and prioritize your needs.

How do support groups help care partners?

A support group is a safe place for care partners and loved ones. This is a great opportunity to express your feelings and process through your journey. You should look for a support group that fits your needs and personality.

Here are some tips for finding a support group:

  • Call the Parkinson’s Foundation Helpline at 1-800-4PD-INFO (1-800-473-4636) to find a support group in your area.
  • Ask your loved one’s neurologist or specialists for support group recommendations.
  • Utilize the Parkinson’s Foundation In Your Area search.
  • Ask your questions in the online forum, PD Conversations.

Once you have found a potential support group, reach out to the support group leader to discuss what to expect within the group.

How can care partners regularly assess their mental health to get their needed support?

It is essential to assess your mental health regularly. Often care partners experience guilt when taking time for themselves. Guilt is a natural emotion, but it is not something you must carry on your own. Here are some ways to check in on your mental health and find support:

  • Reach out to friends and family.
  • Meet with a mental health professional on a consistent basis.
  • Journal to process your experiences.
  • Practice mindfulness to ease stress and expand your perspective.
  • Stay engaged. Participate in online events, such as PD Health @ Home events.

Maintaining a healthy lifestyle as a care partner can be difficult, but you are not alone. The Parkinson’s Foundation has many care partner resources that can help. Not sure where to begin? Call the Parkinson’s Foundation Helpline at 1-800-4PD-INFO (1-800-473-4636).

Sign up for the Parkinson’s Foundation Care Partner Program today. These self-paced courses are designed for care partners.

Source: Parkinson’s Foundation

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