Caregiver Question | 02/09/24

I’ve ignored my own health for too long.

DEAR CARALLEL: I’ve been taking care of my husband since June of 2015 when he had a stroke. It was a few of them actually but you get the point. Our life hasn’t been the same since.

He has difficulty speaking and his right side is too weak for him to be able to walk. He’s gotten pretty good at feeding himself with his left hand so we’ve got that going for us. 

Jokes aside, things are hard at times but they aren’t horrible. Our son and our friends help and my husband’s benefits from the VA are great. Most importantly to me is that his personality is intact and our relationship is very loving and strong. I’m thankful that he’s at where he’s at, because it could be a whole lot worse. 

I’m sending this mail because I heard a segment on the radio recently that scared me pretty good. It was about family caregivers and how important it is for them to keep tabs on their own health. It’s been gnawing at me ever since.

I’m a pretty darn good caregiver for my husband and I don’t want that to change, but I haven’t been too good at taking care of myself. I don’t remember the last time I saw the doctor for anything routine and that radio program scared me into realizing that I’ve ignored my own health for too long. 

Thing is that I’m not sure how to turn that around. What should I do? – Evelyn in Red Bank, TN

DEAR EVELYN: Yay for you writing this email. If you were standing next to me I’d offer a big, happy high-five and congratulations because the first step in caring for yourself is actually acknowledging that you need to. So high-five to you! 

Now, when we’re helping family caregivers take care of themselves, we think about things in a couple of broad, related, and equally important categories. Self-care and preventative care. 

Self-care is about having the skills, strategies, and capacity to protect your own physical and mental wellbeing day-to-day. Having healthy boundaries, time for yourself daily, and regular exercise are common examples of self-care. I wrote about it in this column last year

Then there’s preventative care. It’s more than just a healthcare buzzword and it’s what I’m going to focus on, seeing as though you haven’t seen the doctor in a while. 

Preventative care includes things like getting regular checkups, immunizations, and potentially making lifestyle changes that can positively impact your physical and mental health. And few things are as important as practicing good preventive care.

So here are four ways that you can get back on track. 

  1. Schedule Screenings for Common Diseases: Regular check-ups are like routine maintenance for the mind and body. Keeping an eye on things like blood pressure, vision, hearing, cholesterol levels, and blood sugar, can help identify potential issues early on. 
  2. Schedule Cancer Screenings: Depending on your history, age and gender, screenings like mammograms or colonoscopies may be recommended. The same goes for screenings for cervical, prostate, and lung cancer.
  3. Schedule Vaccinations: Immune systems can weaken with age. Luckily, many of these diseases can be prevented, or severity can be lessened, with vaccines. Your primary care doctor can inform you about what you need to get up-to-date, and with regular visits, can keep you on track. 
  4. Reduce Risks with Lifestyle Choices: Quitting smoking and decreasing alcohol use are common changes that can bring benefits. Sleep is important too, as is moderate exercise and eating a healthy diet. The bottom line is that any positive changes you can make here will be a case of you practicing good preventative care!

And ready for the best part? 

You can kick start it all by getting an appointment with your primary care physician. 

Moving forward, try and remember that your health and wellbeing is just as important as your husband’s. 

Oh and before I go, there’s another side-benefit that I suspect you’ll (rightly) feel once you get back on top of your preventative care. A sense of control and accomplishment.

Accomplishment because it can be hard to make time for yourself while you’re caring for someone else. So scheduling this appointment will be an accomplishment that you should celebrate!

And control because by going to the doctor, you’re taking control of your own health.

You’ve got this, Evelyn. You’re doing amazing!  

Hope this helps, 

–Jennifer, Carallel Care Advocate

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