Top 5 Ways to Care for the Caregiver

The title of caregiver may be honorable and heroic, but it can come with a lot of responsibilities and pressure. Some caregivers may feel underappreciated or under-recognized. Caregiving can be a difficult job, and many caregivers also have paid jobs in addition to the time they spend helping a friend or loved one with a chronic illness such as kidney disease. No matter how much time one spends in the caregiver or carepartner role, a commonality is that caregivers often dedicate so much time caring for other people that it can be easy for them to forget to care for themselves. We’re here to support you! Here are the National Kidney Foundation's Top 5 Tips for Caring for the Caregiver.

  1. Set aside "me" time. Everyone deserves time for themselves and there’s no need to feel guilty about it. It’s important to establish boundaries and to designate this time for yourself. Relaxation means something different to everyone. Carve out “me” time in your calendar to do something you find relaxing, whether it is spent reading, at the gym, or listening to music. This time allows you to decompress and focus on your own needs, in addition to those of your loved one.
  2. Accept others’ offers to help and ask for help when you need it. Remember that you don’t have to do it all, all of the time. Often people are willing to help but may not know how to help or even how to offer. Speak up when you’re in need and give people specific tasks to assist you, even if this just means letting someone else drive your loved one to a dialysis treatment or a doctor’s appointment. There are also many organizations that help with transportation, bathing and meals.
  3. Do something to relieve stress. Too much or constant stress can take its toll on your health. Physical responses to stress include faster breathing and heart rate, a spike in blood pressure, dilated pupils, tense muscles and increased levels of fats and sugars in the bloodstream. To relieve stress, take a walk. Listen to music. Set aside time to relax. Write in a journal. Everyone releases stress differently, but do what works for you.
  4. Pay attention to your own mental and physical health. Caregivers aren’t invincible. They can also get sick and it’s important to keep healthy or it will be difficult to care for someone else. Don’t take care of another’s health needs to the detriment of your own emotional and physical health. Listen to your body for cues. Eat meals sitting down rather than on the go, and aim to get 6-8 hours of sleep each night. Schedule regular check-ups, and don’t neglect seeing your own doctors just because you spend a lot of time at the doctors’ offices of your loved one.
  5. Connect with others who understand what you’re going through. There are support groups that exist to connect caregivers with other caregivers. Some of these meet in person while others take place online or over the phone to form a community of individuals who understand one another’s situations. You can also speak with a friend, clergy member or therapist for more one-on-one support. You’re not alone. You can call the NKF Cares Helpline toll-free at 855.NKF.CARES (855.653.2273) or email us at nkfcares@kidney.org. It's dedicated to patients, family members and caregivers. Speak with a trained professional who will help answer your questions and listen to your concerns.

For more information about resources for kidney patients, visit the National Kidney Foundation’s website, www.kidney.org and speak with the social worker at your friend or loved one’s dialysis clinic for more information about resources specific to your area.