It isn’t easy, but those articles are right: it is as important as any of those things you manage to do for your loved one because “they have to be done and I’m the only one to do them.”
1. Maintain your support system. This is number one for a reason. It makes all the other suggestions easier to do—or sometimes, possible. Join a local support group—the members KNOW your life—they live it too. Join an online support group too. There’s a list of them on the LBDA website. You can reach out at any time of the day or night and find support.
2. Use your loved one’s “downtime” for your own care. As the dementia progresses, it is normal for your loved one to sleep more and more. Take advantage of this gift of time in your busy schedule. Yes, you have housework, etc., etc., but it will keep; do something just for you. Fix your hair, do your nails, take a bubble bath. Read a book, preferably something that will make you laugh. A Rexfull Summer, by Helen Buell Whitworth is just such a book, and you can buy it on the LBD Tools website. (OK, this is an outright plug for my book—but it really is a fun read.) These “time outs” will help you to feel refreshed and more ready to face the reality of your again.
3. Look for something to laugh about every day. It doesn’t have to be wildly funny, just laugh. Something your loved one says or does, something you do, something on TV, something you read--Rex, for instance. (OK, that’s my last plug.) People in caregiver support groups are always sharing humor—often “black humor”—things that are only funny if you are living with the stress of daily caregiving.
4. Make respite a part of your routine. Do something away from home, and without your loved one, at least once a week. If you start this early on, your loved one will find it much easier to accept. Use your support system—ask friends or family to sit with your loved one for a few hours now and then. Wave goodbye and be out the door as soon as they arrive! If your loved one qualifies for hospice, be sure to ask for volunteers to sit with your loved one a few hours a week. Caregiver respite is not a luxury; it is as much a requirement as a good doctor. And so if none of the above suggestions work, pay someone to come in. (Perhaps you can have them do some of that housework you skipped too!) If distant relatives have asked how they can help, paying for respite time is a great suggestion.
OK, now it’s your turn. I’ve only mentioned a few ideas here. There are lots more. What do you do to take care of yourselves?