Managing the stress of caregiving can be a difficult task. For women, maintaining brain health is important for promoting your own healthy aging and to protect your loved one you are caring for.
For some of us, it’s been a while since we were on an airplane but there’s important advice that the airline staff gives us before takeoff, “Please remember to secure your own oxygen mask before attempting to assist others.”
When you’re a caregiver for a senior loved one, it can be easy to spend so much time taking care of their needs that you allow your own needs to fall by the wayside. In order to give the best care possible though you have to be at your best.
In the United States the role of caregiver is most often carried by women. Two out of every three caregivers in the United States is a woman providing regular or daily support to adults or children with chronic illnesses or disabilities.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, “Women who are caregivers have a greater risk for poor physical and mental health, including depression and anxiety.”
It can be hard to know what to prioritize for yourself, but below we have listed six areas to focus on to keep caregivers in the best frame of mind possible. We’re going to pay special attention to brain health, because everything is more difficult if you’re not in the right mindset.
When you’re focusing on brain health, there’s more than one way to approach the importance of healthy aging. The primary areas of focus are medical and behavioral.
Medical Brain Health Tips for Women
1. What’s Good for the Heart is Good for the Brain
When you take good care of your body, you are taking good care of your brain. The brain is an organ after all. Remember to exercise regularly and stay active. Also maintain good sleep hygiene.
It can feel challenging to find time to go to the gym by yourself. Instead try going for walks with your senior loved one. Maybe try a yoga exercise video while your loved one is taking a nap or have them join in with you at a pace they can handle.
2. Feed your Body
Eating well can help with managing many types of chronic health conditions. It also helps protect your brain. Eating non-processed foods, foods low in fat, sugar, and salt are all beneficial for your brain.
Sometimes you are too tired for elaborate meals. Remember to keep healthy snacks around the house such as fruit, vegetables, and bean dips. This way you are still getting your nutritional needs met but you’re not waiting until you run out of gas to eat.
3. Keep up with your Check ups
Make sure that you are also getting to your own doctor appointments. Getting your annual physical and keeping up with flu shots is important to your overall health, which also keeps your brain healthy.
You may find that you are having a difficult time emotionally. Or maybe you are more irritable or anxious than usual. Schedule an appointment with a therapist. It helps to work with someone who can hear your concerns and give you advice to manage your world.
These are some of the ways you can take care of yourself physically but there’s more to brain health than just physical aspects. Your brain is where you do all of your processing and reasoning. You want to keep it as sharp and well-cared-for as you can.
Behavioral Brain Health Tips for Women
4. Selfcare Saturdays or Sundays
Being a caregiver means that you spend a lot of time caring for someone else’s needs. Take time out during the week to care for yourself. Take yourself out for a manicure, or a trip to the salon. Sit quietly and read or relax in front of the tv.
Trust the people in your life to help with caregiver responsibilities. If you spend everything you have caring for someone else, who’s going to care for you? If you aren’t caring for yourself, it is that much harder to care for your senior loved one.
5. Socialize and Maintain Relationships
Socializing has changed as a result of COVID-19 but it’s more important than ever to maintain relationships. The current precautions that we have to take regarding indoor gatherings means that we have to be more creative and persistent about keeping ties with people.
Plan a lunch or dinner date with a friend or family member over Zoom. Maybe do your meal prep while you’re on your call and then log off when it’s time to actually eat. Setup a schedule to engage the people in your personal network. That way it’s easy for both of you to remember.
6. Give yourself a challenge
Challenging yourself to learn something new is a great way to keep your mind engaged. Puzzles and Sudoku are a fun place to start, but you can also get creative with other challenges that you and your loved one can do together.
Consider pulling out the Legos, for example. Building with Legos provides a spatial challenge, as well as a dexterity challenge with many small pieces.
Or maybe you want to try cooking or baking a new recipe with your loved one to learn something new while also enjoying an adventurous new dish.
Pushing yourself gently past your comfort zone helps your brain exercise by building new neural pathways as you learn. Teaching yourself a new skill can help maintain brain plasticity.
Remember to Care for Yourself
It’s easy to fall into the assumption that you will care for yourself after your senior loved one’s needs are met. There are many times where you feel like this is required, but you can’t sustain this all of the time.
Sometimes that means taking care of both your needs and your loved one’s needs at the same time. There are many ways you can both practice healthy behaviors to support brain health.
However, sometimes maintaining brain health for yourself means relying on others to help with the care of your senior loved one.
If it feels like caring for your loved one is becoming a challenge that is getting harder and harder for you to meet, schedule a virtual tour of Kensington Park. See our beautiful campus and meet our loving and dedicated staff. We promise to love and care for your family as we do our own.