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Caregivers Must Take Care of Themselves, Behavioral Health Expert Says

Financial and emotional costs of caring for elderly parents, especially those with dementia or traumatic brain injuries, can become overwhelming for their children. That's why it's important for caregivers to make time to take care of themselves and not feel guilty about it, says a licensed clinical social worker with Memorial Behavioral Health-Counseling Associates.

“Caregivers should try to refrain from guilty thoughts when allowing themselves self-care,” said Kathy Sheets, a behavioral health consultant with Memorial Behavioral Health, an affiliate of Memorial Health System. “The significance of taking care of yourself is so great because the stress will weigh down your immune system which puts you at high risk of becoming ill yourself.”

Allow yourself time to engage in activities that bring you pleasure and joy. “Don’t hesitate to ask family members to come over to sit with your loved one so you can exercise, take a painting class or read a book,” Sheets said. “Friends, churches or adult daycares are also great community resources to reach out to for help. Make sure you are eating a well-balanced diet and getting plenty of sleep too.”

Be mindful of your mental health; it’s equally as important as your physical health, Sheets said. Caregivers can be helping loved ones battling dementia, Alzheimer’s or traumatic brain injuries, which cause personality changes. “Dealing with these changes not only is an emotional roller coaster and possibly takes a physical toll but can also lead to depression and anxiety,” she said. “If this is the case, it may be time to consider long-term care. Seek the counsel of family members, a financial advisor or both.”

If you are feeling overwhelmed and it’s affecting your daily functioning, it's important to seek out help, Sheets said. For caregivers who are feeling overwhelmed, a free and anonymous screening is available at MemorialBehavioralHealth.org.

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