Summertime can be stressful: Here’s how to keep your cool

By Lisa M. Petsche

The mild temperatures and increased daylight of summer can positively affect people’s mood and allow new opportunities for enjoyment.

On the flip side, summer sun, heat and smog can be harmful to older adults, especially those whose health is already fragile. As a caregiver, you must therefore be extra vigilant as temperatures soar.

Perhaps, like the relative you care for, you have health conditions or take medications that increase your sensitivity to the sun or heat. In any case, if you’re not a fan of balmy weather, you may find yourself feeling not only physically uncomfortable but also irritable, especially during heat waves.

To add to some caregivers’ stress, not all community supports operate during the summer months. For example, caregiver support groups typically take a hiatus during July and August.

So how do you keep your cool emotionally during the dog days of summer?

Read on for a variety of suggestions.

General Tips
  • Establish and stick to priorities, and curb perfectionism. Not everything needs to be done to a high standard. Set a time limit for chores if necessary.
  • Be flexible about plans and expectations. Take things one day at a time.
  • Ask other family members to help out and be specific about what is needed.
  • Pay for help if you can afford it – for example, a dog walker, housecleaning service, handyman or grounds keeping service.
  • Get a computer. Internet access can help you stay connected to loved ones, keep up with local and world news and gather information about medical conditions and community resources. You can also connect with other caregivers through Internet message boards and chat rooms.
  • If you don’t have central air conditioning, get a window air conditioner or oscillating fan for the room(s) you use most.
Meal Preparation
  • Collect recipes for one-dish meals, such as stir fries and main course salads.
  • Cook double batches of recipes and freeze half for later use.
  • Keep a supply of heat-and-serve entrees in the freezer.
  • Buy convenience foods that reduce preparation time: packaged salads, shredded cheese and boneless chicken breasts, for example.
  • Order takeout once a week.
Housekeeping
  • Concentrate cleaning and tidying efforts on the rooms that are used the most.
  • Do full loads of laundry whenever possible. Ensure everyone in the household has enough basic clothing to last for a week. Buy clothing that can be machine washed and dried and resists wrinkles.
Yard Maintenance
  • For gardening, stick to low-maintenance flowers & shrubs. Use mulch to discourage weed growth.
  • Get a mulching lawn mower so you don’t have to bag grass. Or hire a neighborhood youth to cut the grass.
Financial Management
  • Arrange with the bank for direct deposit of pension and other checks and automatic withdrawal of regular bills.
  • If you have a computer, sign up for Internet banking so you can pay bills, transfer money and check balances from home.
Shopping and Errands
  • Shop through mail order catalogs, using the telephone or Internet.
  • For gift giving occasions, purchase gift cards; many kinds are available online, as well as on display at department stores and drug stores.
  • Take advantage of stores and other services that offer home delivery.
  • Research mobile services in your area, such as hairdressing, dog grooming and automobile servicing.
  • Coordinate errands and avoid peak use times of the day, week or month when visiting stores, banks, government offices and other establishments. Also avoid rush hour traffic.
  • If your relative can safely be left alone but either of you is anxious about the prospect, supply him or her with a portable phone and get yourself a cell phone so you can stay in touch. A personal emergency response system may also help put your mind at ease.
Care for your Relative
  • Find out about community support services, including respite care options, and take advantage of them. Information can be obtained from your local office on aging.
  • If finances permit, hire a personal support worker or companion for your relative so you can get out more often.
Care for Yourself
  • Look after your health: eat nutritious meals, get adequate rest, exercise and schedule regular medical checkups.
  • Do something you enjoy every day: read, listen to music or take up a hobby.
  • Cultivate a healthy sense of humor. Read the comics, watch a TV sitcom or rent funny movies.
  • Stay connected to the important people in your life.
  • Set aside some quiet time each day; it nurtures your spirituality and helps to keep you grounded.
  • Find an outlet for expressing your thoughts and feelings, such as talking with a friend or keeping a journal.
  • Seek help from your primary physician or a counselor if you continually feel sad, angry or overwhelmed.
  • Never forget that you can only take good care of your relative if you take good care of yourself.

Lisa M. Petsche is a medical social worker and a freelance writer who specializes in elder care.

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