GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (ABC 4)- Caregiving can be one of the most challenging and important roles you’ll ever take on in your life. And while you’re taking care of your loved one — whether at home or in a facility — it can be easy to put your own needs on the back burner.

According to the Family Caregiver Alliance, caregivers often report suffering from poor eating, sleeping and exercise habits and often neglect making medical appointments for themselves.

But you can’t pour from an empty cup and there’s a reason flight attendants tell us to put on our oxygen masks first, before helping others. To take good care of your loved ones, you must first take care of yourself. One way to do this is by simply getting help. By using caregiving resources available to you through AARP, state agencies and other groups, you can have more time to tend to your own wellness. 

Photo courtesy of Getty images

Prepare for tomorrow today. Even though the caregiving journey can be full of unexpected twists and turns, the more prepared you are the smoother your path will be. With AARP’s Prepare to Care Guides you can create checklists and a step-by-step plan to help you make the best decisions regarding the care of your loved ones. And AARP’s Long-Term Care Calculator will help you compare the costs of different services in your area so you can estimate what funds you’ll need to provide for your loved ones’ future needs.

Find your people. As you care for your loved one, you need a support system. If possible, call on other family members to lend a helping hand. Try to create a schedule so everyone will know who’s doing what and when. If you have friends with caregiving experience, don’t be too proud to ask them for advice and encouragement. If you don’t have any friends who can relate, join a support group for caregivers.

Ask for extra help. Take advantage of resources for caregivers that may be available in your state. In many states there are agencies and programs that offer help with financial and legal matters, as well assistance with health insurance concerns and getting free or low-cost prescriptions. Find caregiving assistance and services in your state with this guide from AARP.

Know what you don’t know. No matter how long you’ve been at it, when it comes to caregiving, you don’t know everything — and that’s OK. Don’t be ashamed to ask questions. If you have a question that your friends, family or your support group can’t answer, try the AARP Caregiving Q&A tool. You can get answers to your specific questions as well as practical tips to help your overall caregiver journey.

Give yourself a break. Caregiving may feel like a 24/7 job but it’s OK to take time off. If your budget allows for it, enlist the help of in-home caregiving services so you can take a trip with friends, a solo staycation or just a day at the spa. CareLinx is an online network that can connect you with prescreened, professional caregivers in your area. Some of the caregivers within the network can help with bathing, housekeeping, transportation and more. And you can stay in touch with your caregiver wherever you are through the CareLinx mobile app. AARP members who are new to CareLinx receive a 3 percent discount on in-home caregiving services. If you often find yourself too drained at the end of the day to cook a good dinner, check out Silver Cuisine by bistroMD. You’ll get chef-prepared meals delivered straight to your door. They also cater to specialty diet needs and offer gluten-free, heart-healthy, diabetic and low-sodium meals. AARP members save 25 percent and get free shipping on their first order of $99 or more. After that you’ll save 10 percent and get free shipping on all future orders of $99 or more.

Remember self-care isn’t selfish — even when you’re a caregiver. It’s a vital part of the job.

Photo courtesy of Getty images.

(Sponsored by AARP Michigan)