When you are the caregiver of a dementia patient, no matter where you go or what you do, their situation is there with you, the proverbial elephant in the room. whether you are involved in another activity or trying to accomplish a nonrelated task, it is always there, niggling at you, distracting you from what you are trying to accomplish. The patient’s needs are never far from your mind.
But I am asking you to make a small shift in you thinking, for at least part of the time. But I must warn you that this step cannot be taken without feeling guilty. I think that every caregiver tries to live by the traditional caregiving job description: When not spending every waking moment focusing on the immediate needs of their loved one, the caregiver will feel ashamed and guilt ridden. See, there it is in writing, a rule stating that once you become a caregiver you must forfeit any desire for personal happiness.
Well, I say that it is time that you and I rewrite this rule. I say that you should stop being so hard on yourself and think of it this way: How can you create joy and happiness in the life of another individual when you are emotionally depleted and not nurturing your own zest for life?
As I have said before, caregiving is a tough business. You have to be on your toes, ready to hit the next curve ball out of the park. You need to be up to the challenge. I don’t care if you have to schedule time off and hire an aide while you relax, you absolutely must find a way to attend to your personal needs.
- Take care of yourself physically. Schedule regular doctor’s visits and annual screening examinations. It is incredibly easy to overlook your own needs when you are coping with the demands of caregiving. Time can pass very quickly when you are embroiled in the physical and mental needs of another person. Schedule your doctor and dentist appointments in advance, mark them in your calendar, and don’t let anything or anyone cause you to cancel them.
- Schedule time away from the patient. Give yourself permission to take regular breaks by building time off into your caregiving schedule. Ask family members to help out one day a week. Go to lunch with a friend. Take a class. Participate in an activity that brings you pleasure. Plan a yearly vacation to a relaxing destination. A change of scenery will help keep your responsibilities in perspective. And most importantly, keep reminding yourself that there is a big, wide, wonderful world outside the parameters of caregiving.
- Accept help when it is offered. Let others show their love for you by allowing them to spend time with your loved one. This was particularly difficult for me. I saw Nan as my responsibility and didn’t want to pass my burden onto anyone else. I felt that I had to be in control of everything that happened to her. It took me quite some time to realize that my friends were sincere. they genuinely wanted to help. Once I agreed to let them sit with Nan on occasion, it was beneficial to both Nan and me. I got a short reprieve while Nan was able to meet and enjoy new people.
Part 2 will be published tomorrow. Stay tuned.