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Julie Ambachew | June 14, 2022
Being a caregiver comes with its challenges and rewards, especially when you are placed in the unexpected position of caring for a relative or loved one diagnosed with dementia.
When a loved one cognitively declines, the question is not whether your life will change; the question is how will your life change? Most of us jump right into what our loved one needs – from the right care and medical team to ensuring their home is fit for this next phase of life and everything else in between.
As you step fully into the role of a caregiver, you may experience a myriad of feelings such as stress, concern, confusion, resentment, fear, or even exhaustion. It is a position no one anticipates nor has experienced until they go through it. Conversely, the one needing care may also feel overwhelmed and guilty knowing their health problems are a burden for someone else.
When all your focus is on the care of another, it can be difficult (and not even feel possible) to step away from caregiving duties and care for yourself. However hard it may be, this is the only way you can ensure you continue to have the strength and energy to care for another.
Here are a few tips to help establish some balance, especially if you are just getting started in your caregiving journey.
Critical Decision Making
Have discussions with your loved one early on, so they can be part of crucial decisions related to health care directives before you need them. You may also wish to discuss and outline how they want to receive care when there is flexibility. This allows you to know what your loved one’s wishes are, and it alleviates the responsibility of making the decisions on your own.
Each day, carve out breaks to be alone or do something just for you – take a short walk, read a book, watch a favorite show, or call a friend. Use these moments to de-stress. Even taking a few moments periodically throughout the day for some deep breathing, meditation, and mindfulness practices can do wonders.
Fuel Your Body
When you are meal planning for your loved one, include yourself as part of the equation. Prepare nutritious meals and snacks (or have someone prep them for you) for both of you to have on hand, especially when days are tougher.
Always have hydrating beverages close by, like a water bottle or warm cup of herbal tea. And add movement to your daily routine, such as getting fresh air on a walk or doing gentle yoga at night.
Join a caregiver’s support group so that you can ask questions, lessen the feeling of isolation, share stories, and lean on others that may be going through similar situations.
Consider hiring a professional to help at home and allow you to take those much-needed breaks. You may also consider a consistent schedule with other family and friends to allow for a little time away. Respite stays at assisted living communities can also provide a wonderful time for your loved one and you to take a break. It can be arranged for just an afternoon or for several days, even weeks.
Consider Your Options
If caregiving begins to feel like too much, it is never too early to explore other options like an assisted living and memory care community. Doing your research early can alleviate stress down the road should you need help more promptly.
While it is important to be proactive and do your best to establish healthy routines early on, that is often easier said than done. Be extra mindful of key signs of burnout: lack of sleep, feeling physically and/or emotionally drained, being easily agitated (unlike your usual personality), seeing dramatic weight loss or weight gain. These are all signs you need to take better care of you.