by: Susan Ashby
You have become a caregiver. It may be a temporary need for help, or it may be a permanent situation. As a family caregiver, you have chosen to take on the responsibility for another person, and that decision comes with many stresses—especially if the senior you are caring for has dementia.
So, what is your first priority? Taking care of yourself! This may seem counterintuitive, but you will not be a help to anyone else if you are not healthy yourself. This includes mental and emotional health, as well as your physical health. The following 8 strategies will help you:
1. Research. The more you know about the cause for the need of a caregiver, the better prepared you will be to anticipate your senior’s needs. If the person has had a stroke, the emphasis may be on recovery of function, or adaptive equipment, or speech and physical therapy. You will need to know how to assist them toward being as independent as possible.
If the senior you care for has dementia, it is important that you know what the stages of dementia are and how to deal with each. Dementia is progressive, and you will have to be able to adapt to the changes that continue to occur over time. It is helpful to know what to expect, and you might want to think about how much you feel you can handle. There may come a time when professional help will be needed on a full-time basis.
2. Family help. Enlist other family members to help also. Some members of the family may be able to step in for you and care for your senior while you are gone for a day or more. Others may not be comfortable with sole responsibility. Still, just a visit will give you the chance to read a book, watch a movie, or take a nap. You would still get a break, and he knows you are there if he needs you. Don’t forget the teen grandchildren. They could pick up groceries or mow the lawn, as well as visit with their grandparent.
3. Friends. Don’t neglect your own friends. Those relationships provide you with a break from caregiving. Even if you can only be gone for a few hours, that is time for a lunch date, a walk in the park, or a kayak outing. If your friends offer to help, take them up on the offer. Even if they don’t want to provide physical care for your senior, they may be willing to take Mom to her dentist appointment, clean up the flower beds, or help you with cleaning the house.
4. Meals. Ask each member of the family to make an extra serving of dinner each week and put it in a microwavable container. Then Dad can just pop it in the microwave and have a hot dinner every night. Friends can help with this also. If that isn’t going to work, enroll Dad in Meals on Wheels. Then a hot meal will be delivered each day.
5. Respite. At some point, you will need to use a professional service to be with your senior. You may get sick yourself and not be able to be with your senior, or you might have a scheduled event that you want to attend and no one in the family is available to step in. It is a good idea to have a relationship with a service that provides senior care before you need it. Have them care for your senior while you go out for a couple hours so that they can establish a relationship with your senior. Ease your senior into the idea of a professional caregiver being with them so, when you really need the senior caregiver, it is less stressful for both you and your senior.
6. Caregiver health. Don’t neglect your own health. Continue your routine checkup with the doctor and dentist. Get your flu shot every year. Make time to exercise and maintain healthy eating habits. Try new methods of stress relief like meditation, yoga, or Tai Chi. There are YouTube videos on all of these.
7. Legal and financial. Questions about your legal and financial rights and responsibilities need to be addressed as soon as possible. This is especially true in the case of dementia caregivers. You will need to be reimbursed for expenses incurred on behalf of your senior. In the case of medical care, your senior retains the right to decide for themselves unless they have been deemed incompetent. If the senior has named the person they want to take on the role of health care or financial care, that legal responsibility may have to be activated before those named can act in the role. The sooner you can address these issues, the less stress they will cause you as a dementia caregiver.
8. Find a confidant. You need to have a person you trust that you can vent to, share with, and receive support from. This could be a friend or a relative, or you may choose to remain anonymous and go to an online chat line for caregivers. These will be people who are sharing similar experiences and can give encouragement, suggestions, and support in a non-judgmental format. It can be a great stress relief to know that you are not alone and that lots of other people are dealing with the same problems as other in-home caregivers.
Taking care of yourself is so important for both you and the person you care for. Don’t ever feel selfish when you take time for yourself. You can’t be a good caregiver if you are not healthy in mind and spirit. Caregiving, especially for someone you love and are close to, is rewarding and a privilege. However, it can also be challenging and exhausting at times. Hopefully, these tips will help you to deal with the difficult times and maximize the gratifying times as a caregiver.