Caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s is hard–that is one thing I believe we can all agree on. I can’t sugar coat it. Caring for my Dad through his disease was a beat down on the entire family. Most family caregivers are doing this job while juggling a life of their own and caring for their loved one at home as long as possible, all while trying to wrap their arms around the rising costs of full-time memory care. In addition, the stigma that is often associated with dementia leads many to slowly withdraw from outside social activities. I get it, in fact I watched my Mom struggle with having to make excuses for how my Dad behaved in public until she basically became a shut in.
With the responsibilities that come with being a family caregiver, it’s vitally important to care for yourself as much as you care for your loved one. I tend to turn to music when under stress, so here are some of the things to think about while being a caregiver to help take care of yourself – with a lyric or two that you might find familiar:
Research– Alzheimer’s can be complex and difficult to understand. There is an enormous amount of information around, both good and bad. Take the time to learn about dementia and the needs and demands of caregiving that will enable you to remove some of the unknowns. And, as the Eagles would say, find a “peaceful easy feeling.”
Work with others – Caregiving can be a lonely job, but you should never feel like you are on an island alone. There are over 15 million Americans providing unpaid care to a loved one with Alzheimer’s disease. Connect with other, share experiences and knowledge, and build support networks to help you. Bruce Springsteen said it well: “At the end of every hard-earned day, people find some reason to believe.” You must believe there are others who know exactly what you are going through.
Stay healthy – Try and make some time to relax and never skip your own checkups. Physical exercise is also really important and is something that can easily slip. Something as simple as walking 30 minutes a day can make a drastic improvement in your own health and well-being. In the song “Who You Are” by Jessie J., she sings, “Don’t lose who you are, in the blur of the stars.” Taking care of yourself will make you a better caregiver.
Stay social –Talk to friends and try to maintain balance. You need to be able to take a break from caregiving, and nurture other parts of your life as well. Try to remember the old saying, “we get by with a little help from our friends.”
Don’t fight your feelings – It is perfectly natural to feel stressed, guilty, and even angry as a caregiver. Worry, guilt, anger, and grief are all part of the process. Sometimes the best thing you can do is find someone to talk to, whether that is a friend you trust, another member of the family, or just someone else going through the same things as you. “When you try your best, but you don’t succeed, when you get what you want but not what you need,” comes from a Cold Play song and sums up the feelings we often have knowing that we have so much to be thankful for but life can be so very hard, especially as a caregiver.
Take advantage of support services –You don’t have to do everything on your own! There are many places you can turn to for help, including local support groups, senior centers, Meals on Wheels, Memory Cafe and adult daycare. There are also online communities where you can share experiences with other caregivers that can help lighten your load. This is a big one! We think we can do it all, but we don’t have to. There’s a great line from the Broadway show Wicked that says, “some things I cannot change, but till I try I’ll never know.”
Caregiving is one of the hardest jobs around and you shouldn’t shy away from reminding yourself of this. Seek help and support where you can. Acknowledge the difficulties, and don’t neglect your own health. Most of all, don’t forget to keep connecting with your loved one throughout the journey. They may forget your name, but they will always know that you are there for them, whether they can verbalize that or not.