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Your Health
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Rona Barrett: Hi-Ho, Hi-Ho, It’s Over the Brink I Go — Caregivers Need Respite, Too

I am no doctor (don’t have the patients), but allow me to play one in this column.

So, tell Dr. Rona how you’re feeling. Exhausted? No time to rest? Working full-time? How about life changes? Caregiving your elderly parent in your spare time? Bingo!

The average “spare time” we 60-plus caregivers spend caring for our senior loved ones is 25 to 35 hours a week.

And you’re telling Dr. Rona that YOU are the one who has it under control? Caught up in the whole I-can-tough-it-out-and-handle-it-for-better-or-worse mentality?

Well, let Dr. Rona give you a dose of reality: Ignoring the stressors of caregiving makes us two to three times more likely to experience depression and debilitating health risks.

Just like the seven dwarves who followed Snow White around, these seven warning signs soon will sneak up and have you whistling, “Hi-ho, hi-ho, it’s over the brink I go … .” They are guilt, resentment, anger, worry, loneliness, anticipatory grief and — before you disagree with me — defensiveness.

The good news is there are ways to prevent these caregiver stressors.

The bad news is that most dedicated, unselfish, sacrificing caregivers like you refuse to do anything about it — until it’s too late.

Schools have recesses. Workplaces have vacations. Athletes have down time. Caregivers need replenishment time.

So, let’s have YOU and Dr. Rona talk about YOU caring for YOU the caregiver. Here is my personal prescription I’m writing for YOU:

Reach out and establish a network of neighbors, friends and family members to come into your home so you can leave for a few hours — on a regular basis — of respite care that will allow you to recharge, refresh, regroup and, as the Caregiver Action Network tells us, "… remember there is life beyond caregiving."

If that’s not possible, there a few good local places to seek out volunteers and professionals who provide caregiver respite care: Visiting Nurse & Hospice Care and the Caregiver Coalition of Santa Barbara.

Also consider a local day center facility. Some are nonprofits. Others are for-pay or offer subsidies.

Find a support group or class to take through local hospitals, the Area Agency on Aging or websites like the California Department of Aging. Sponsored locally by the Alzheimer's Association, The Savvy Caregiver is a four-week program for family and non-professional caregivers.

But at the very least, doctor yourself with a preventive mental vacation — a 10- to 20-minute daily getaway.

Book yourself time to read.

Work out time for exercise.

Dig a hobby — like gardening. 

Get yourself into hot water — take a bath.

Get in-talk-sicated — call a friend.

Take a minute ­and listen to your favorite music.

Can you prognosticate the hardest part of what I’m prescribing? Committing to it. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one out of three caregivers refuse to make respite time for themselves. Is it a surprise then that half of them said their health had worsened and affected their ability to give care?

So please follow these remedies. Dr. Rona’s orders. They are a necessity, not a luxury.

Until the next time ... keep thinking the good thoughts.

— For more than 30 years, Rona Barrett was a pioneering entertainment reporter, commentator and producer. Since 2000, she has focused her attention and career on the growing crisis of housing and support for our aging population. She is the founder and CEO of the Rona Barrett Foundation, the catalyst behind Santa Ynez Valley’s first affordable senior housing, the Golden Inn & Village. Contact her at [email protected]. The opinions expressed are her own.

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