"Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle." -Plato
For all those family caregivers that embark on the journey of caring for another human being, the road can be long and challenging. For those caring for an aging loved one with dementia, the journey can be uniquely perplexing and every day on the road can be different than the day before. As dementia caregivers we have a responsibility to take good care of ourselves so that we can take good care of others. This is easier said than done. Here are a few tips and ways we can be kind to ourselves, reduce stress, and respect the journey we are traveling.
Show Self-Compassion: It is easy to recognize the great efforts and sacrifices of others, but we can minimize the impact of our own responsibilities on our lives. Self-compassion begins with an honest look at what you are carrying. You are a caregiver, medical assistant, companion, advisor, confidant, assistant, healthcare coordinator, cook, advocate, spouse, parent, etc. No wonder you are tired and stressed! By fleshing out the context that you are living out of and remembering all your responsibilities, you can build the foundation of being compassionate and kind to yourself in the moment. Self-compassion responds to your context with the question, “what do you need to be well?”
Locate Yourself in Your Journey: You have not always been a dementia caregiver and you will not always be a caregiver. Recognize that you are in the midst of a specific part of your story. It can be easy to have our lives swallowed by the enormity of the tasks of caregiving. We can begin to live as though this phase of our lives will continue indefinitely. Take moments to see the whole picture of your story and to acknowledge that this phase of your life will indeed end.
Extend Friendship to Yourself: When a good friend is in need we send flowers, bring hot meals, write emails of encouragement, and take them out for a walk. However, when it comes to extending those same graces to ourselves, we easily skip over them. When we say things like,” I don’t need that hot bath”, or “this handful of popcorn is my dinner”, or “going out with friends would just be a waste of time I don’t have”, we build a pattern of negating our own needs. Acting out of this scarcity of time and resources can actually fatigue us further, reduce the amount of energy we have to deal with complex situations, and burn us out. To be good travelers and caregivers, we must care for our bodies, minds, and spirits like we depend on them take us down this road.
Ask for Help: Human beings have flourished in communities because allows them to depend on one another to get through the movements of life. We might be concerned for new parents who refuse help, thinking they can care for a newborn without help. Why would we not also be concerned for caregivers of aging parents who are isolated and not asking for help? Help can come in many forms. Keep a running list of tasks that would be easy to give to someone else: Picking up dry cleaning, bringing a meal, adding a couple items to their grocery list. Chances are there are friends and community members who want to return a favor and show their support and are looking for gestures like these to show they care.
Become Grief Literate: With dementia, there are many small deaths and losses that happen along the way. Seeing a loved one’s abilities, memories, personalities, and thoughts fade is devastating. Be sure to recognize your own need to grieve even while your loved one is still living. By noticing your own grieving you can also become aware of the grief process of other family members and loved ones who may be involved with care as well.
Schedule Reprieve: As dementia is a fatal disease that will continue to progress, the physical and emotional demands for a dementia caregiver will increase over time. Acknowledging this reality can be both difficult and necessary. Even if you are in the early stages of dementia caregiving, create a plan for back-up and reprieve care for yourself. If you need to take a sick day, plan a vacation, or give yourself a mental health break, having a phone number ready to call will remove a barrier to help. In-home care agencies are available to provide hourly care within the home. Ask agencies if they have caregivers that are trained to handle the type and stage of dementia of your loved one when you are vetting home care companies.
At Sound Options, reprieve is a phone call away. We customize dementia care in the home to meet the needs of the family and give caregivers an alternative to “doing it all”. Give us a call to start getting the break you need at 800.628.7649.
Published on January 21, 2016.