It can be difficult to find spare time in your day to care for yourself when you are caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s or dementia. Programs like Primrose’s Respite and Adult Day Care offer caregivers much-needed breaks from daily care for their loved one.
More often than not, however, caregivers use their respite time to shop or ‘catch up’ on the things they can’t get to otherwise, rather than taking the time to care for themselves. Sometimes this lack of self-care comes from feelings of overwhelm that leave many caregivers not knowing where to begin to care for themselves. Virginia Bell and David Troxel, authors of The Best Friends Approach to Alzheimer’s Care recommends caregivers “Be Your Own Best Friend”.
Here are some tips based on author recommendations for taking care of your caregiver self:
- Accept That Caregiving Is Stressful. Sometimes we need a bit of prodding to take better care of ourselves. If you are wondering about your stress level as a caregiver, take this quick stress check test, presented by the Alzheimer’s Association. Just reading the eight questions in this Yes or No quiz may help you acknowledge that the stress of caregiving is a health issue for you.
- Listen to Your Body: People providing care to individuals with Alzheimer’s disease are at greater risk for premature disability and death. This risk is the result of numerous factors, notably the stress that comes from the tasks of caregiving. Take care of yourself by eating properly, exercising, and pampering yourself — take the time to get a massage, have a meal with friends, or maybe get a makeover!
- Be Good to Yourself: Caregivers should zealously carve out time for themselves and try to maintain special activities, hobbies, friends, or other activities that give pleasure. Give yourself a regular gift of an afternoon spent fishing, buying fresh flowers at the farmers market, or treating yourself to an afternoon at the movies — –pick something that makes you feel good.
- Maintain a Sense of Humor: The art of providing good care involves maintaining a sense of humor and striving to “lighten up” about life’s challenges. Watching a classic comedy movie or program on television, sharing a funny story at a support group meeting, or simply laughing with the person you are caring for can help inoculate you against the stress and strain of caregiving.
- Seek out Someone You Can Confide In: A trusted friend or counselor can make all the difference to a family caregiver. We all need someone to talk things over with, and be understanding of our needs. Families who in the past would never have considered counseling should throw out these notions. A good counselor or support group can help in many ways.
- Set Realistic Expectations: We can easily lose sight of how much giving of ourselves is realistic and healthy. Survey how much your caregiving is effecting your health, your ability to care for your loved one, how much time you spend (away from work or other family obligations), what kind of or how much family support you get, and how much money you need to spend on care without jeopardizing your family’s financial well being.
- Practice Assertiveness: Don’t be afraid to speak up to family members and friends about your feelings and needs. It’s OK to admit that you’re not doing okay, and ask for help. Asking for help is a sign of strength, not weakness.
- Find Time to “Feed Your Soul”: We all have things that make us feel good, or that are healing to our soul. For some it’s working in the garden, for others it may be walking in nature, or going to the beach and watching the waves. It may be reading, painting, dancing or listening to music. Making time to “give back to others in need” also helps to keep things in perspective.
Many of these suggestions are easier said than done, so we recommend you start by implementing one, or a few of them to start, and add more over time as part of your personal ‘self-care regimen’ — it will help both you and the person for whom you are caring to be more patient and kind with one another.
Thank you to The Best Friends Approach to Alzheimer’s Care, by Virginia Bell and David Troxel, for information provided in this article.