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Paying It Forward

Image courtesy Boians Cho Joo @ http://www.freedigitalphotos.net

I was spending some time at my local library today, and found myself browsing through the stacks looking for books on Alzheimer’s Disease and related topics.  I did find a couple I wasn’t familiar with, and I was delighted to see that Dr. Ruth Westheimer has recently put out a book of advice for caregivers.  Years ago, I fell in love with this feisty senior citizen, when she would appear on television giving out advice on marital problems and other issues.  So, I had to check out Dr. Ruth’s Guide for the Alzheimer’s Caregiver, subtitled How to Care for Your Loved One without Getting Overwhelmed . .  and without Doing It All Yourself.

I have only started to read, but wanted to share one of the early sections with my readers, in the hopes that it will provide some assistance — and also stimulate some thought.  In a section titled Reciprocity, she talks about how some caregivers are reluctant to ask for help because they’ve always been very independent.  There’s something of a negative connotation, for some people, with having to admit that you can’t do it all yourself.  Dr. Ruth has a very good solution to this.

She suggests that caregivers consider seeing if there’s something they can do to help others, as a way of reciprocating for the good services done for them by others.  Even with limited time available, there are always little things we can do.  For example, if your loved one enjoys baking, have her help you make some cookies.  And then take those cookies to the church bake sale.  Put a sign in the front yard to support a candidate for mayor. Make a phone call, or send a card, to someone who is recuperating from an illness or an injury.  And so on.

I find knitting is a wonderful way to relax and center my mind, especially when I’ve had a rough day.  Any kind of repetitive handwork has the same result for many people, and it has often been reported that people who engage in these activities get into a zone almost as if they were meditating.  When your mother is taking a nap, why not steal a few minutes to work on a scarf for a homeless man?  Or do some mending for that middle-aged bachelor next door, who wouldn’t begin to know how to sew on a button.

Another possibility is to trade services with someone else.  If you have a particular talent, such as preparing a tax return, providing some tutoring or piano lessons, or baking a cake, check to see if there is a time-bartering service in your community.  In return for your efforts, someone may be happy to go to the grocery store for you, take the dog for a walk, or elder-proof your bathroom.  Or, it may be that someone you already know could help you out in this way.

One complaint often heard from in-home caregivers is that they develop a strong feeling of isolation.  Sharing or swapping services in this way can alleviate that problem.  Too, you can get that warm feeling that can only come from helping someone else.  And you will undoubtedly be grateful for their services, as you increase your contact with the outside world.

How about letting your loved one participate in these giving-back activities?  I knew a delightful woman who lived in a long-term care facility, who spent her days crocheting lap rugs, which she in turn gave to other residents.  If your mother has special skills that she would enjoy sharing with others, even with a little help, letting her use her talents for the benefit of others will undoubtedly boost her morale, and perhaps make your life more enjoyable as well.

Need more ideas for ways that others can help you, even with the little things?  How about running your mail down to the box so you don’t have to leave your mother alone while she’s napping?  Or making sure that your car is full of gas, in case you have to make a quick trip to the doctor’s office?  Maybe the youngster  next door would enjoy taking your dog for a walk, or shoveling snow from the walk, or read to your mother?  Could your neighbor pick up the dry cleaning when she gets her own?  If you sit down for a little while, I’m sure that a lot more ideas will come to you.  And if you make a new friend while doing good deeds for each other, perhaps she could think of more ways to help out.

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