When you’re responsible for caring for someone else, it can be far too easy to neglect your own health. But to do the best job as a caregiver, it’s important to put yourself (or at least your health) on the priority list. Attending to your physical and emotional well-being can help you reduce your stress level, better manage the responsibilities of caregiving, and improve your quality of life. Here, we’ll help you better assess your own needs and learn how to fulfill them.
Regular physicals or check-ups are essential for the person you’re caring for—and for you, as a caregiver. These appointments allow your doctor to assess your overall health, and because these appointments are longer than the ones given to patients who call with specific ailments, you’ll have more time to discuss any concerns.
One way to ease the stress of medical visits is to find a doctor you feel comfortable with, and one you can talk to candidly about your concerns and lifestyle habits. You’ll also want to select a doctor who will be proactive about your health, helping you identify risk factors, and take steps to prevent problems or catch them early, rather than simply treating conditions when they arise.
How long has it been since your last physical exam? If it’s been a while, make an appointment. (Ditto for dental check-ups and eye exams.)
To make the most of your appointments, take time beforehand to think about any recent changes to your health and lifestyle using the checklists below. Remember to bring along a pad and pen so you can take notes during the appointment. And if the doctor or healthcare provider suggests something you don’t understand, always be sure to ask for clarification.
At the exam, let your doctor know you’re a caregiver! Plan to discuss how you’re coping with stress, and be sure to mention any changes you’ve seen or others have noted in your appearance or habits:
It’s also a good idea to discuss your diet, stress level, and exercise program or plans for one with your doctor. If you don’t exercise regularly, ask about any limitations and get the go-ahead. Find out if your caregiving activities, such as lifting your loved one, are putting undue stress on your joints.
In addition, ask about vaccinations (such as for flu, pneumonia, or shingles) that will help you stay healthy and minimize your loved one’s exposure to something preventable.
Meanwhile, other screenings are gender-specific. These include:
For men: Screening for prostate cancer (with a PSA, or prostate-specific antigen, test) beginning at age 50.
For women: Screening for breast cancer (with a mammogram) every year or two, beginning at age 40; annual pelvic exams and a Pap test at least every two to three years; regular thyroid tests after age 45; and a bone density test after menopause.
Your doctor may alter the timetable for some of the above exams depending on your family history.
When it comes to general lifestyle, men and women alike should make an effort to develop and practice the same healthy habits, including: