By Dr. Jamie Huysman
LCSW, CFT

1. Take your oxygen first!
Join a support group for caregivers and make time to engage in other activities to balance your caregiving duties with your personal body, mind and spiritual needs. It’s important for you to have a place to vent and deal with your feelings. Above all, don’t forget that you are human.

2. Ask questions and get answers.
Learn as much as you can about your caree’s primary disease and underlying conditions. In the long run, your loved one’s medical team will appreciate the fact that you are informed and will be more willing to share information with you.

3. Be the go-to contact (or support the one who is).
If you are in the position of being the primary caregiver, make yourself known as the go-to person for your caree’s medical team to confer with regarding your loved one. Having one family member as the primary contact enables you to be an effective liaison between your family and your loved one’s medical team. If possible, set up regular meetings or conference calls with a social worker or geriatric care manager for other family members to voice their concerns.

4. Get the training you need.
Should there be necessary medical procedures you are expected to perform with which you are not familiar or confident in doing, it is your right to be trained in how to do them. Don’t be shy about asking for help — ever. As the backbone of long-term care in the U.S., the ACA has a provision for this.

5. Communicate with your loved one.
Spending quality time with someone who is ill is a not-so-random act of kindness. It is the part of effective caregiving that has the most impact on your caree’s quality of life (and your serenity). Most of us don’t like not being able to do things for ourselves. Having to depend on others for basic necessities can make some people downright ornery and difficult to deal with. You can assist in making your loved one more accepting of their situation by treating them with kindness and respect, especially when they are working your last nerve! Let them know they are not alone and encourage them all along the way.

6. Ask for help when you need it.
Rely on your village. Just as your loved one is not alone, neither are you. You are not an island. Do not isolate. Use all available resources to assist you. Don’t have a village? Well now you get to create one.

7. Live your life!
Your life is not over when you become a caregiver; it’s just different. Giving care to a sick, frail or disabled loved one is not your only life’s work. It might be what you presently do, but it is not the be all and end all of who you are. Your life is what you make it; choose wisely!

By Carol Zernial
WellMed Charitable Foundation Executive Director

I have a new thing that makes me happy: Zumba at the local YMCA. I go twice a week. I look forward to it, and I’m sad when I have to miss it. It puts a smile on my face. That’s something I really needed during a difficult time.

What’s funny is that my friend has been inviting me to Zumba class with her for the past few years, and I didn’t want to go. I had other things at the time. Or I didn’t want to add anything new. I was sure I wouldn’t like it. So it has been a complete surprise to me that I enjoy it so much.

The reason I finally decided to go was that I wanted to spend more time with my friend, and she was at Zumba. So I went. But I found out that good things give many times over. Not only do I get to spend more time with my friend doing something we both enjoy, I also have met some lovely new women in the class. I’ve lost weight. I have better cardio endurance. I excited about the new music and artists that I have discovered through the class. I have some new dance moves.

I like the comradery of the class. These are women who are both professionals and stay-at-home moms. They are breast cancer survivors. They have recently lost a parent or are still caregivers. They are volunteering to raise scholarship money for the YMCA. Some, like me, are trying something new, too. We wish each other happy birthday, and celebrate each other’s achievements. We talk about community. It feels much more supportive than my old traditional gym, so I cancelled my gym membership. I guess I can add saving money to the list, too.

I think about all of the other caregivers while I’m dancing away at Zumba, wishing that everyone could have something that brings them joy at a time when they need it. I’m wondering how many of us have been turning down offers that could lead us to our next new thing.

A thing that brings us joy can be so small that we really do have time in our schedules and room in our lives regardless of where we are on the caregiving journey. It could be as simple as a new bright-colored flower in the garden that we nurture as it blooms. It could be a cat that purrs on our lap, or a dog that loves us unconditionally and does silly things. It could be a new book that we steal away to read one chapter or even a few pages at a time. It could be an online series available anytime. It could be a brief phone call that keeps us in touch with a person who puts a smile on our face, connects us to the outside world, and helps us to feel like we are still visible.

There are things, old and new, worth finding that will give back to us in ways we didn’t expect — but we have to say “yes” when the opportunity comes along.