According to AARP, more than one in five American adults are caring for someone with special needs. That’s about 53 million caregivers in the United States, which is up 10 million since 2015. Bottom line, there are lots of people caring for a family member who is disabled or ill. It can be a rewarding experience, but if you’re a caregiver, you know it can also be very stressful.

You can manage the stress of being a caregiver. There are three main things to remember.

First, take care of yourself:

• Get some exercise. Schedule out times every day to get moving. This will help you feel better and sleep better.

• It’s essential that a caregiver identifies other resources that can assist in caring for the person in a regular manner when the caregiver needs some respite. There are agencies and organizations in Idaho that provide this type of support.

• Make time for an activity you enjoy. For example, make time to read, listen to music, or paint, even if you can only do it for a few minutes a day.

• Get regular medical checkups. Even if you have always been healthy, you need to stay healthy. Know about the signs of depression and watch for them, not only in the person you are caring for, but also in yourself.

• If you have feelings of lingering sadness or hopelessness, talk with your doctor.

Second, don’t help too much:

• Let the person you’re taking care of make as many decisions as possible. Your goal is to help them have as much control over their own life (as much as possible). Letting them decide what to wear, what to eat, or when to go to bed, can empower them to be more independent.

• Allow for mistakes: Be patient, and let things get done with less-than-perfect results.

• Give them responsibility for something they might be familiar with and that they can manage: What we might think of as too small a job (i.e., folding clothes, setting the table, etc.)

• Studies show that people who are asked to care for pets or even a plant live longer and maintain a higher level of independence, longer.

Third, ask for help:

• Be ready to accept help. The best answer to the question, “Is there anything you need?” is “Yes.” Be ready with specific ideas. Let them pick something they would like to do.

• Find other ways to get help. You could hire a helper for a few hours a day or find a grocery store that delivers.

• Get the support you need. Again, helping a loved one with health problems can be emotionally difficult. If you are having trouble coping with your feelings, seek advice and counseling from family members, trained mental health professionals, or spiritual advisors.

There are many resources out there for caregivers, from support groups to adult day centers to respite care, which will allow a caregiver to get out of the house for a while. You can reach out to the Family Caregiver Navigator, a free program from Idaho Caregiver Alliance, that can provide free assistance and resource referral for caregivers in SW Idaho at 208-426-5899 or by visiting caregivernavigator.org, the Idaho Commission on Aging, or the national Respite Network and Resource Center (ARCH). For help finding other Idaho resources, you can call the Idaho Careline at 211, or there’s the Optum Member Access and Crisis Line at 855-202-0973, operating 24/7.

Dr. Dennis Woody is a pediatric neuropsychologist providing support to Optum Idaho’s Medical team for care management and has been with the team since 2013. Before coming to Optum, Dr. Woody practiced in Idaho for 27 years with an emphasis in consultation for children and adolescents with neurodevelopmental, neurological and behavioral health concerns.