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Carers: Tips to stay on top form

WebMD Medical Reference
Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks

Putting your needs last may feel like the right thing to do if you're busy, but in the long-term, you could be storing up health problems. Eventually, you may even burn out and become too ill to carry on caring, so neglecting your health is as bad for the person you care for as it is for you.

Many carers say their own health has suffered as a result of their responsibilities. But there are lots of simple lifestyle changes that you can make to help you feel better today, and protect your health in the future.

Here are some top tips:

See your GP

Many carers say a lack of time or inflexibility in leaving the house had stopped them seeing their GP, when they needed to, on several occasions. Many carers also say they never get a chance to talk about their own health with another person, whether a friend or professional. Sometimes talking about your concerns can help you get them into perspective. Try to make GP's appointments and other check-ups a priority - it's always better to treat a health problem sooner rather than later.

Eat well

A healthy diet will give you the energy you need to be a good carer and help protect your health. With some planning, it is also possible to eat well even you don’t have time to cook from scratch every day.

Make time to relax

Even the most committed carers will admit that at times it can be stressful, and tension can build up. Devoting 10 or 15 minutes a day to relaxation can make a big difference to stress levels, and studies have shown that it can also help lower blood pressure, improve sleep and stave off anxiety.

Protect your back

Back pain can be common in carers, especially if they have to lift a relative to help them. However, it’s important not to simply put up with it. Left untreated, it can get worse and affect your quality of life. If your role as a carer involves lifting, ask your GP for a referral to a community physiotherapist or district nurse who can show you safer lifting techniques. You should also discuss lifting at your Carer’s Assessment, as specialist equipment such as a hoist or stair lift may help you.

In general, staying active can help prevent back problems as it strengthens the muscles that support your spine. Here are some general tips to bear in mind for a healthy back:

  • Ideally, never lift the person you care for on your own
  • Always bend at the knees, keeping your back straight
  • Carry heavy objects (eg boxes or equipment) close to your body
  • Become a fidget! Try not to stand or sit in the same position for hours. Simply changing position often is better than trying to achieve the ‘perfect’ posture
  • Do the opposite action. If you twisted and reached forward to the right and then got sudden pain, do the opposite. Stand, or sit tall, and arch backwards diagonally to the left. Then move smoothly back to tall upright open posture. If that feels better, and not worse, do it again, every hour or two, if it seems to help
  • Anti-inflammatory painkillers (such as ibuprofen) can help with occasional back pain. But always follow the recommended dose and seek medical advice if you still need to take them after two days
  • If you have persistent back pain, ask your GP for a referral to a physiotherapist
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