“Yeah, sure,” you say. “I’m already over my head in running errands and doctors appointments and staying up half the night with my loved one—and on and on. I can hardly do what has to be done. How can I be better?”
Well, the first thing is to take better care of yourself! If you are already” over your head” in caregiving, you don’t have enough help. Caregiving is NOT a one person job.
Mary, a local caregiver told her support group, “But I’ve always taken care of Alex without help. It’s been a one person job so far—and I don’t want that to change.”
The group’s response to that was to remind her that at first, it hadn't been a one person job. When Alex could share the load, the couple got along fine. But as he became less able, Mary had to take on more and more. It has changed already—from a two-person job to a two-person job that only one person was doing.
“I never thought of it that way,” Mary said. “I guess I do need to make some changes. “But,” she cried, “How can I do that? We live on a limited income. We can’t afford to waste money hiring people to do things I can do.”
“But can you do those things?" the group leader asked Mary. “Yes, you can do each one, and probably do it better than anyone else. But can you do it all? Or more to the point, can you do it all without getting sick? Damaging your back? Losing so much sleep that you become exhausted. Developing any one of these illnesses that caregivers are susceptible to like diabetes, heart problems, stroke, dementia, even death?"
“You make it sound awfully bad. Really, we are doing all right. I just feel overwhelmed now and then,” Mary said.
The group was right. It IS serious. And if Mary doesn’t stop trying to do it all, one of those problems the group leader mentioned will happen. Eventually she may not be able to care for Alex at all.
If, like Mary, you have come to realize that you need more support, here are some suggestions.
Resolve to make a small change first. Many caregivers start by having someone come in a couple of times a week at bath time. Or consider having someone do double duty—some light housework while they watch your loved one which frees you up to go shopping, or out to lunch, or both. Check into local Adult Day Care programs. These relatively inexpensive programs can give your loved one a change of scene and you a few free hours each week.
Resolve to attend a support group. This is as important as making sure your loved one takes his medicine. Maybe more! A support group helps you to know you aren’t alone. There are a lot more people just like you out there and they are willing to help you in a lot of ways. You can vent and the group will understand. You can ask questions and hear what others have found is the best facility or neurologist or treatment or drug or whatever for them and their loved one. You can learn about their experiences and how to make your tasks easier. And much more!
Resolve to ask for help. There are many organizations that can provide assistance, sometimes for free. You can find out what and where these organizations are at your local support group. If not, go on line and search. Start with Eldercare Online (ec-online.net). Family, friends, neighbors, church and members of any other organization that you or Alex belongs to may also be able to help. Sometimes help will come in the form of money to hire help. This is a great way for a distant family member to feel involved. And sometimes, help will simply be an ear, willing to listen to you vent.
Resolve to take time to be you. Take care of your physical health. Make and keep your doctor’s appointments. And take care of your emotional health too. You are more than a caregiver. You are a person in your own right. Do something to remind you of this every day, even if it is only to read an enjoyable book for a half an hour.
Remember, taking care of the caregiver is your PRIMARY job. Only then can you do a good job with your loved one!