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Caregiving: A Survival Guide

Quick tips to help you handle the most important job of your life

You've heard it on every flight you've ever taken: If cabin pressure changes and oxygen masks drop, secure your mask before securing your child's.

The same goes for caregiving. If you're one of the more than 65 million Americans providing care for a chronically ill, disabled or aged family member or friend, paying attention to your own needs is essential. In honor of National Family Caregivers Month, here are quick tips to encourage you in your caregiving journey.

Believe in Yourself

As a caregiver, you likely will face tough decisions, so take time to educate yourself about the disease or disability with which you are dealing. Have a third party help weigh the pros and cons of care decisions. Now is also the time—no matter how uncomfortable it may be—to establish a living will and medical power of attorney for your loved one.

Protect Your Health

It's common for caregivers to disregard their own diet, sleep and fitness habits—not to mention emotional health. The National Family Caregivers Association offers these tips: Take a daily vitamin, exercise a few times a week, get away from your caregiving to have fun at least once a month, add spirituality to your life, get an annual flu shot and have a yearly physical.

Reach Out for Help

Don't go it alone. Make a care plan with people close to your loved one, and divvy up responsibilities. If there aren't close friends and family, ask others to help. Perhaps there's a friend your loved one knows from church who enjoys cooking and can provide meals occasionally or a neighbor who can relieve you one night a week. Join a support group or an online caregiving community.

Speak Up for Your Rights

Speak up for your loved one and for yourself. In fact, while you're at it, reread the first three tips and repeat, repeat, repeat. If you believe in yourself, guard your health and seek help, you'll have much more energy to be proactive, creative and resourceful as you advocate for your loved one.

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Last Updated 04/10/2009