Do you make New Year’s resolutions before or after the first day of January? If you are caring for a loved one who has Alzheimer’s disease or a related disorder, you may think you don’t have time to make them at all! But now during the first week of the year, as the holiday hustle and bustle is settling down, why not create a list of things to consider during 2018?
Here are 10 tips from experienced family members and dementia care experts that could make for a healthier, happier 2018 for you and your loved one alike.
- Take care of yourself. We put this at the top of the list because many studies show that dementia caregivers neglect their own health, putting themselves as risk of heart disease, depression—even Alzheimer’s disease. Make exercise, nutrition and your own health appointments a priority. Talk to your healthcare provider about stress reduction strategies. There’s an old saying: caring for yourself is an important part of caring for your loved one.
- Learn more about your loved one’s condition. Understanding what underlies the changes in your loved one’s personality can help you cope with and manage distressing behavioral manifestations of the disease. For example, aggression, agitation and anxiety can be viewed as expressions of unmet needs. Understanding your loved one’s “language” can help you better address these issues. And share what you learn with others. Friends and other family members will be more comfortable with the changes in your loved one if they understand what’s happening.
- Cut yourself some slack. Alzheimer’s caregivers make many sacrifices—of time, money, energy—to ensure the well-being of their loved one. And yet, many express a sense of guilt that they aren’t doing enough, or aren’t doing it well enough. If they struggle with feelings of anger or resentment, they might feel guilty about that, too. Know that you have taken on a difficult labor of love, and that your feelings are to be expected. Let go of unrealistic expectations, be flexible, and judge yourself by the “new normal” in your life, not by old promises and standards.
- Don’t keep concerns to yourself. Taking care of a loved one who has dementia is physically and emotionally taxing. Bottling up your feelings and concerns raises your stress level and prevents you from getting help. Talk to friends and family if you’re confident doing so. Talk to a counselor who is familiar with the issues of dementia caregivers. Join a support group where you can share feelings, coping strategies, and a sense that you’re not alone.
- Consult professionals about legal and financial issues. Geriatric care managers (also known as aging life care professionals), elder law attorneys and financial planners can offer valuable advice about Medicare and Social Security, long-term care, powers of attorney and guardianship, advance directives and estate planning. Knowing you have these tasks under control can reduce stress considerably.
- Have a family meeting. It often happens that when an elderly parent develops dementia, one adult child ends up providing most of the care. Or, the person’s spouse takes on more and more, without others quite realizing what’s happening. Get family members and others involved, in person or by phone. Ask for help, and be specific. Chances are others are willing and able to help—they just don’t know what is needed. Family members who can’t participate in hands-on care and supervision may be willing to contribute financially to your loved one’s care. If the discussion isn’t going well, a geriatric care manager or counselor can help.
- Talk to your employer. Caregivers who work full- or part-time often struggle to balance their work duties with their caregiving tasks and other responsibilities. Sometimes family caregivers hesitate to explain to their employers what they are dealing with—but studies show that candor is most likely the best policy. Talk to your supervisor or Human Resources department about your current situation. Ask if your company has an employee assistance resource and referral program that offers family caregiver information and support. Find out the company’s policy on family leave, flex time, telecommuting and job sharing.
- Learn to say no. This is a time in your life when you’ve taken on a very heavy workload, and a time to prioritize your responsibilities. Outside your paid employment if you work, are you serving on committees for volunteer organizations or in your faith community? Take stock of your life to decide which activities you truly enjoy, and which ones add to your stress. Explain to others that your caregiving duties make it impossible to keep up some of your normal activities at this time.
- Laugh. This might be the hardest one—but research shows that humor protects our brains and bodies. Watch a funny movie, TV series or YouTube videos. Experts also recommend that we try to find humor in our own lives. Some caregivers say that looking for humor in the things their loved one says helps lower frustration. This is not laughing at or deriding your loved one, but instead finding humor in the unique new ways your loved one experiences the world. This can help you have a better relationship with your loved one—and laughter lowers stress, relieves tension, and helps smooth over difficult situations.
- Learn about respite services. You may be thinking that you don’t have time for ANY of the above resolutions. This is a good sign that respite services are vital for you! Sometimes family caregivers whose loved one’s care is becoming more challenging simply become bogged down by the many details they face, and they fail to look into services that could help. Contact your local Area Agency on Aging, the Eldercare Locator and the Alzheimer’s Association to learn about services available for people with dementia and their families. In some cases, a residential memory care facility is the best choice. To keep their loved one at home longer, many families have discovered the many benefits of professional in-home care and adult day centers specializing in the needs of people with dementia. These services can be an important safety net for families, who can go to work, exercise, and take care of themselves in so many ways with the peace of mind that comes from knowing their loved one is safe, content and cared for by experts.
Source: IlluminAge AgeWise