Word to Caregivers
You have devoted more time than is imaginable to caring for an individual with a memory disorder. You’ve done things for their physical, mental, emotional and spiritual health, probably with little or no recognition. And while you’re committed to ensuring your loved one or friend is as happy and comfortable as possible, have you asked yourself, “When is it time for me?”
As one of more than 65 million caregivers, you owe it to yourself and your loved one to take care of yourself. In fact, that is rule number one as, unfortunately, caregiving can lead to extreme stress and burnout that can take a serious toll on the caregiver. If steps aren’t taken to maintain good overall health, the caregiver may end up needing care herself or himself.
Remember, when you fly on a plane, in the event of a crisis, parents (also caregivers) are told to put their masks on first, then their child’s. Why? Because the parent has to be safe in order to protect his or her child. Think of caregiving the same way. You need your mask on (to take care of yourself) in order to help your loved one.
Here’s what you can do:
Get support: One of the best things you can do is find a support group to share your feelings and to help you know that you’re not alone. After all, you may have a mix of emotions that you need to process, and a good support group can help you cope with the stress of caring for someone with a memory disorder and provide some much needed camaraderie. In addition, you can learn strategies that other caregivers are using to help reduce their stress and help their loved ones maintain independence. You might also consider some counseling for yourself to learn more tools to deal with the stress and to manage your emotions more effectively.
Take a break: Of all the tips listed, this is arguably the most important. Downtime is essential for you in order to rest and rejuvenate and to maintain your own health. Take time for a walk, to make a meal you savor, to watch a funny movie with your friends, to do some yoga or Tai Chi or just to meditate. Whatever you do, remind yourself that this is your time, and make sure you guard that time—you need it to restore yourself. If you need someone to take your place, ask a friend or family member, or contact your local Alzheimer’s, elderly or caregiver respite organizations to find someone who can give you a break. Some of these organizations, along with local governments, may even offer scholarships or sliding-scale fees to help with the costs.
Know the law: Believe it or not, there is a law that may help you take some time to care for your loved one without having to give up your job. With the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), you may be able to take up to 12 weeks to care for a sick family member. Talk with your employer and see if you’re eligible.
Educate yourself: Anxiety about your loved one’s disorder, about what can happen or whether you can do the job to care for them can create stress. Take some time to learn about the memory disorder affecting your loved one. Doing so will help you feel more empowered and reduce your stress levels.
Learn the word “no”: There may be days when you are just too physically or emotionally wrought to carry out your caregiver duties. Rather than pushing through and potentially harming your own health, pay attention to those feelings and take care of yourself. Say “no” to caregiving for the day and arrange for a friend, family member or professional to give you the time needed to rejuvenate. You’ll find when you don’t push yourself to the limit all the time that you feel better and have more energy to give to your caregiver duties.
Pay attention to eating and exercise: In addition to nourishing yourself with the time you need, remember to maintain other healthy habits. Eating nutritious food, exercising regularly and getting enough sleep are all essential to your health, and you have to stay healthy to care for your loved one.
Monitor yourself: Because it’s so easy to get wrapped up and even overwhelmed with caregiving, it’s a good idea to keep a journal or a calendar (paper or electronic) to keep track of how you’re feeling and what you’ve done to take care of yourself.
Here are a few links to some key caregiver organizations that can provide resources and information to help you through your caregiving commitment.
- Alzheimer's Association - National organization for Alzheimer's Disease
- Care.com - Helps locate high-quality caregivers
- Today's Caregiver- Provides information, support and guidance to caregivers
- ARCH National Respite Network - Network of respite resources and information
- National Alliance for Caregiving- National non-profit dedicated to caregiving issues
- Leeza's Place - Founded by talk show host Leeza Gibbons, site offers resources and guidance for caregivers
- Helpguide.org - Offers guidance and information on a range of topics including senior issues, Alzheimer’s disease and dementia and caregiving
- Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) - Government site explaining the Family Medical Leave Act
For more information or a physician referral, call (888) 906-8935.
- Diagnosing a Memory Disorder – what to expect during a memory disorders comprehensive assessment and evaluation
- Hurricane Preparedness – what to bring and tips if a hurricane or other natural disaster strikes
- Keeping the Brain Sharp – strategies to help reduce your risk of a memory disorder
- Silver Alert – what it is and how it can help if a loved one with dementia goes missing