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Taking Care of the Caregiver

Those people who have devoted their lives to caring for a friend or loved one who has dementia (or any chronic illness, for that matter) have my undying respect.  Those who are involved in this level of care will usually tell you that such a life can be extremely rewarding.   But, on the other hand, they will most likely also admit that it’s one of the hardest things they’ve ever done.  Watching someone you care for deteriorate, both physically and mentally, can be very painful.  And the demands of the job never stop.  There’s no clocking out at the end of your shift, and going home.

That’s why I think it’s so important that we, who are not involved in the day-to-day care of the impaired person do what we can to make life easier for those who do assume such responsibility.  One way we can do this is to offer to give the caregiver some respite from their daily tasks,whether it be for a few moments or a few hours.  Treat her to a massage, or a walk in the park, or even just time for a long soak in a hot bathtub.  Even a few supporting words, at a time when she is feeling discouraged, can be so helpful.  Or, how about making sure that the caregiver takes care of herself as well as her mother?

Here are some important things to consider, when one is a full-time caregiver:

Be sure to take care of your own health.  It’s important to continue with regular check-ups (mammograms, dental cleanings, and so on).  Don’t ignore the signs that your own body is giving you that something may be wrong — exhaustion, changes in appetite, stress, and so on.  And keeping up with your vaccinations will not only keep you healthy, but will prevent the person you are caring for from getting sick as a result of your own illness.

Exercise can help relieve stress, prevent you from getting sick, and just plain help you feel good.  However, finding time to exercise is not as easy as it might sound.  Here are some ideas:

1.  Allow friends and family to help you out for a short time.  Use the time to go for a walk, visit the gym, play a round of golf.  This will not only help you feel better, it will help these others feel like they are doing something constructive.

2.  Start small.  If you can’t do 30 minutes, try doing 10 minutes at least 5 days a week.  Then build up to longer sessions.

3.  When the person you are caring for takes a nap, grab a few minutes to do a little yoga, or get on the stationary bike.  (For example.)

4.  If you really enjoy what you are doing, it will be easier for you to find a few minutes here and there to do it.

5.  Exercise doesn’t have to be strenuous.  Try going to the local mall.  Find ways to do things with the person you are caring for, like dancing to a favorite song or working in the garden.  Or walking the dog.

Make sure you eat well.  Just because the person you are caring for has a poor appetite, or is on a specialized menu, that doesn’t mean you have to limit yourself.  Choose healthy options, instead of loading up on junk foods.

There are a lot of other things you can do, to take care of yourself.  But if you don’t do it, chances are that no one else will.  And it won’t do your mother, or friend, or husband, any good if you end up sick as well.

  1. September 9, 2012 at 7:14 PM

    Great post!

    As a person who now ‘needs’ support from my family and friends, I salute all carers too as they [you] are the ones who have to keep accomodating our ever changing needs (moods, behaviours, loss of insight, impaired memory, etc), and although we [people with dementia] have little if any ability to control them, it must be hard for our carers to always have to be the ones who have to change.

    Your list of advice for self care applies to PWD dementia too!
    Thank you to all the wonderful carers (family or professional) out there.

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