I have a single friend who is the sole personal caregiver of her 93-year-old mother. She also works full-time at a very stressful job. Fortunately, her mother can still be alone for most of the time my friend is at work. The only outside help she allows is when I and some other neighbors help her mom with her lunch or take her out for a short walk with her walker. Her sister takes their mom to get her hair done once a week and to routine Dr. visits. My friend uses PTO to take her mom to more important appointments. Just twice this year she asked her sister to help their mom with her dinner and to get ready for bed so that she could have an evening out. Although others have offered to give my friend more help with her mom, she says that no one else knows how to meet her every need. She usually gets less than 6 hours of sleep a night. I’m convinced that my friend is at serious risk of losing her own health because she doesn’t accept help in her role as her mom’s personal caregiver, and that she may do so while her mom is still in need of her constant help.
Personal Caregivers, Take a Look at Yourself
As family caregivers of a loved one, do you see anything like your own situation in my friend’s story? Are you experiencing health problems? Do you recognize them as being related to the constant stress, lack of sleep, manual labor, financial worries and lack of personal time caused by having to–or thinking you have to–do almost everything yourself to meet your loved one’s needs? Are you convinced that there are no caregiver alternatives that will help you take care of yourself, while at the same time providing your loved one with the help they need to stay at home?
Although my own situation isn’t as demanding as my friend’s yet, my husband has early-stage Alzheimer’s and is about to turn 80. The list of my responsibilities for his care, for keeping up our home, for managing our finances and for making most of the decisions related to our future, even our daily activities, is growing. Although I am 5 years younger and still in good health, I know I must take care of myself and my needs, so I will be able to take care of his needs in the future and, if possible, outlive him! Easier said than done, right!
Consider General Tips
Dakota Home Care has published two blogs with general tips for Relieving Caregiver Stress and for Avoiding Caregiver Burnout. Every caregiver’s situation is different, but why not check out these tips and note the ones that you think might help in your situation. Try not to be guilty of thinking you are the only one who can adequately care for your loved one, or of not asking for help or changing your schedule because it will make them unhappy. I review these tips on a regular basis and try to be realistic about how, as my situation changes, more of them might help me as I care for my husband.
Ten Tips that Help Personal Caregivers to Cope
Even if your loved one requires much more care than mine, some of the things I try to do to keep myself healthy both physically and emotionally might still apply to you:
- Practice deep breathing. This is my favorite tip from the Caregiver Stressbuster Workshop I attended. I can do it while I’m doing anything else, and it really does help me to relax and cope better in the moment.
- Don’t bottle up all emotions. While trying to be patient and reminding myself that the upsetting things my husband does are not his fault, I also try to remember this point from A Caregiver’s Bill of Rights: I have the right to get angry, be depressed, and express other difficult feelings occasionally. At the same time, I remember what a social worker said to me, “It’s better to be happy than to be right.” I’m working on it!
- Make a list of what I hope to do during the week. Even though most days don’t turn out like I thought they might, I have the list to remind me what I would like to do when I have the time, and what I’ve actually done, because I check things off. A lot of caregivers don’t know in advance what they would want to do if they had the time. Sometimes just writing it down can help to make it happen.
- Get enough sleep. For me, that’s 7 hours minimum. Experts say most of us need at least that much. I have the luxury of sleeping in a separate bedroom. That works for us for now. My friend uses a baby monitor with one end in her room and one in her mom’s so she can hear her mom if she calls to her.
- Be the one who makes plans. I’ve had to accept that if my husband and I are going to go out together and do some of the things he can still do—dinner, a movie, the symphony, a play, a drive—I have to be the one to plan the activity. I also have to be the driver and walk very slowly so he can keep up with his cane.
- Eat 3 healthy meals a day. I’ve had to cut down on food preparation time. When I do cook, I try to make enough for several meals. Because a Mediterranean (mostly vegetables) diet is recommended for people with Alzheimer’s and for preventing it, I try to include lots of plant matter in what we eat. We do go out to eat or bring in take-out more often than we used to.
- Do things without my husband. I can still leave my husband alone, so I do things like go to lunch with a friend and try not to worry about his care for a while. Because I know how good this makes me feel, I’m promising myself that I will continue to find a way to do things on my own, even if it means finding someone else to be with him for a while.
- Exercise at home. Even though you can’t go to the gym, you can still exercise at home. I am fortunate enough to have a treadmill, some weights and a stationary bike in the house so I can exercise without going out. Spending 45 minutes 5 days a week exercising helps both my body and mind to feel better.
- Do brain-building activities. Experts tell us that learning a new language, listening to or learning new music and doing some types of puzzles can actually create new synapses in the brain. Doing mentally challenging things helps me to feel like I’m still a person who can contribute in other ways than caregiving. I volunteer as my church choir director, listen to Spanish lessons while doing my morning bathroom routine, read and continue to write on a freelance basis.
- Take one day at a time. It’s important to plan for the future as much as you can, but it’s also good to be in the moment and enjoy what you can while you still have it. I try not to focus too much on what life could be like in the future and think more about what my husband and I can enjoy together now.
Dakota Home Care, a top rated home care agency offering support for caregivers, provides in home care services tailored to your caregiving needs. You don’t have to do it all alone. They include help with your loved one’s personal care, such as bathing, toileting, and dressing assistance; a Home Health Aide to help with housekeeping, shopping, preparing meals and companionship; an RN who can provide Skilled Nursing Care, if needed; respite care that allows you to leave home for a while; and a free in home consultation with our Client Services specialist, who will discuss services and options available to you. Call 701.663.5373 today for an appointment to learn more about how our senior home care services can help personal caregivers.