Over the years I have been sharing with you how important it is for you to take care of you. Being a caregiver, any kind of caregiver, is challenging to say the least, and if you are in the world of Alzheimer’s caregiving, I can hear you saying, “Tell me something I don ’t know.” This progressive illness presents obstacles and adjustments that need to be made on a regular basis and that’s why I’ve said so many times, “the better you take care of you, the better you can take care of them.”
Many are the overwhelmed caregivers who are neglecting their own needs, and as a result compromising their own physical, mental and emotional wellness. As noble a cause as you may think that is, it is not required or necessary. The Alzheimer’s Association (alz.org) puts out a free pamphlet on “Taking Care of Yourself” that should be early reading for all those who find themselves in the caregiving role. If the truth be told, the insights they share are relevant to any informal or home care provider of any loved one, regardless of the issue.
It’s no secret that stress is bad news. Even though there is a thing known as “good” stress, for the purpose of this article my focus is how to deal with the bad stress so many caregivers are dealing with daily. Here is a list of recommendations to help you manage stress and as a result be a better caregiver.
Take a Break. Take advantage of friends, family, a home care agency, the adult day center or a respite program that may be provided in your area for regular timeouts for you.
Learn About the Illness. The better you understand the disease, the better prepared you’ll be to handle what’s ahead. Remember, Alzheimer’s is a progressive disease. Things are going to change and not for the better.
Manage Your Own Health. Eat well, try to get enough rest and try and get some exercise.
Manage Your Stress. Easier said than done? From high blood pressure to changes in your appetite, irritability to a lack of concentration, stress takes a toll on you. There is no honor in “going down with the ship,” so see your family physician sooner rather than later.
Accept Changes When They Occur. A big part of this is recognizing when you are now “in over your head.” Is it time to reach out to a home care agency for help? Perhaps it’s time to transition your loved one out of the house completely to a dedicated residential care community. Being proactive is critical. Do your homework ahead of time so you’ll have an idea of what agency or community you think would work best. You don’t want to be doing this when you’re in a crisis.
Make Medical, Legal and Financial Plans. Once again, if there were ever areas where you want to be proactive, it’s here. As things progress, your loved one will be unable to make these important decisions for themselves. Who then will be in charge of them? Will the rest of the family be on board with the decisions being made medically and financially? Experience has taught me that things can get particularly ugly if you don’t dot these all important I’s and cross these critical T’s.
Know That You’re Doing Your Best. There is no such thing as a perfect caregiver and there is no shame in realizing you can no longer provide your patient with the care he or she needs at home. You fail them when you deny them the care they need. Is that a dedicated community? A skilled nursing community? Before you feel guilty, remember you are dealing with a progressive illness and as much as you’d love to, you can’t control the impact it’s going to have on your loved one.
Questions? Email me at email@example.com. Remember, Join the Journey.
Robert E.P. Elmer III, of Stonington, is a senior care adviser and Alzheimer’s care specialist. His website is www.careforcaregivers.org.