I’m the primary caregiver for my ill, elderly father. I’m exhausted and upset all the time–What can I do to lighten my load?

DEAR DOCTOR K:

I’m the primary caregiver for my ill, elderly father. I’m exhausted and upset all the time. What can I do to lighten my load without costing us much? Neither of us is well off.

DEAR READER:

You’re not alone. Approximately one in five American adults helps an elderly or disabled family member with the daily tasks of life. This caregiving runs the gamut from grocery shopping, cooking and cleaning house, to helping with baths and personal hygiene or providing hands-on medical care. That’s often in addition to caring for other family members and holding down a paid job.

Caregiving may be one of the most worthwhile jobs you’ll ever undertake, but it can be exhausting. It can cause immense strain, which may lead to depression and health problems.

Here are some budget-conscious tips to help you take care of yourself:

  • Always accept help when it’s offered. Create a list of very specific things that you would love to have help with, so you can request something specific when help is offered.
  • Tap into religious communities. A religious or spiritual community can be a strong source of assistance if you or the person you are caring for belongs to one.
  • Support groups are a good place to share ideas and experiences with other caregivers. There are quite a number of support groups for caregivers on the Internet. Just type “caregiving support groups” into a search engine.
  • Look for government-supported services. You might be surprised by how many services your father may be eligible for. These are services provided by local or state governments, or by the federal government. Ask your doctor for the name of a social worker who can work with the two of you. Particularly if your father is on Medicare, he may be eligible for help in cleaning the home, personal hygiene, and even “Meals on Wheels” delivered to the home.
  • Stay connected. Catch up with friends regularly. Establish a weekly walk with a friend or an occasional lunch or movie.
  • Clear your schedule. Set aside a regular time to spend with your partner or family, away from home.
  • Stay active. Try to get 30 minutes of moderate exercise a day, most days of the week.
  • Enjoy yourself. Listen to music, enjoy a luxurious bath, take a yoga class or do a jigsaw puzzle. Regular time off can renew your spirit and energy. If you don’t take care of yourself, you won’t be in very good shape to take care of your father.
  • Ease stress. Learn meditation or other relaxation techniques.

I have never had to be a caregiver for a member of my family, but many of my patients have been in that position. Their personal sacrifice and dedication inspire me. But sometimes they need help to lighten their load. Often that help is available, but they have to be proactive to find it.