by Kevin K. Johnson, Certified Senior Advisor (CSA)®
My September 17, 2012 blog posting titled “Recognize the Stages of Alzheimer’s Disease”, discusses what we as caregivers can use to help us work with our elder loved ones suffering from this disease. I recently read an excellent article in the Cleveland Plain Dealer by Ellen Kleinerman where she discusses the significant personal challenges that family caregivers of seniors with dementia undergo. So often and understandably, the focus is on the “primary” victim if you will, the individual that has contracted the dementia. But let’s be clear, there are other people who suffer right along with the individual that has the dementia. These are secondary victims; those of us who provide family caregiving assistance for the primary victims.
In her article, Ms. Kleinerman mentioned a few planning steps that I found helpful and insightful for those of us that share this challenge. I hope you find her recommendations as useful as I did.
She states that, sometimes love, dedication and even guilt push caregivers beyond their limits. Sleeplessness, weight gain or anxiety could all signal a need for change. Here are some suggestions to stay focused and healthy.
Get organized: Keep health records, lists of medications and appointments in one place.
Write down observations: Record changes in behavior in your loved one or questions that surface so you can ask the doctor at the next appointment.
Look around for available resources: Delivery of food or supplies, home health care services or community elderly services may provide respite or needed backup.
Plan ahead: Investigate the next step in care now so you don’t have to do it in a crisis situation.
Accept help: Realize that you should not be doing everything. Find ways for friends and relatives to assist. And don’t be afraid to ask.
Know the stages of illness: This will help you navigate physical or mood changes in the person for whom you are caring.
Be flexible and supportive: Treat your relative with dignity. Focus on what you want to happen, not who is “the boss.” In the end, it reduces stress on both sides.
Schedule “me time” on a regular basis: Going to the gym, visiting an art gallery or having lunch with a friend will refresh you and reduce feelings of frustration. Even gab time on the phone with a friend could serve as a breather.
Develop contingency plans: Have a backup caregiver in case you unexpectedly need to leave the house or change your daily routine if you care for your relative in her home.
Share your feelings: Talking to a close friend or going to a support group should help you explore and verbalize your emotions.
Take care of yourself so you can take care of your loved one. Avail yourself of every opportunity to maintain your life, your individual persona outside the realm of primary family caregiver. Too often, we see the mental and physical health of the primary family caregiver deteriorate faster than the senior that they are engaged with assisting. Just something to think about!