The Whitworths of Arizona, bringing science to you in everyday language.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Caregivers Get Sick Too

This week, I have the flu. Yes, I had my flu shot but I’m still sick. Awfully sick. I’m spending more time in the bathroom than anywhere else. I’m afraid to get too far away for fear I won’t make it back in time. And I feel nauseous. Lying down helps, and so I’m spending a lot of time lolling around in bed, hoping I’ll feel better when I get up. And I usually do, for a little while. That’s when I do stuff like this.

But I can hang out in the bathroom. I can stay in bed. I can do as little or as much as I want. My husband is here; he picks up the slack. And so I am fortunate. If he had LBD and I was his caregiver, it would be very different. I wouldn’t have the freedom to be sick, to hide in the bathroom, to stay in bed. And if I did, who knows what would happen. And so, I’d be out there, trying to carry on. Any of you recognize that scenario? I’ll bet most of you have been there!

I’ve been thinking as I loll around in bed that caregivers need a backup plan. What do you do when you are too sick to care for your loved one? Do you soldier through anyway? I’ll bet a lot of you do. But you aren’t doing anyone any good. Here’s why:
  • You can’t do a good job when your mind isn’t fully there—and when we are sick, you know it isn’t.
  • When you aren’t fully present, your loved one senses it (remember they are very perceptive!) and feels deserted—and showing it by acting out in some way.
  • If you don’t take care of yourself while your illness is minor, it can and often does get much worse. They you may find yourself in the hospital and unable to care for your loved one at all.
And so, what is your plan for when you get sick?
  • When I was my sister’s caregiver, we had a respite caregiver who took over occasionally to give me a weekend away. We started early and so it was something my sister expected and accepted. If I’d been sick, I could have had her come in for that too. However, when I developed a bad cold, I did as most caregivers do—I struggled on. And I gave my sister my cold. I felt awful! Sometimes, it is no favor to “struggle on.”
  • Do you have a place where you can “hide” and take care of your illness. If your home is large enough, maybe you can stay home, although the temptation to “help out” is always there if you do. But if your place is small, find a retreat. Stay at with a family member, a friend, or if necessary, a hotel. But not at home.
  • Do you have access to any other type of respite care, such as hospice? That is a wonderful blessing. Get your loved one on hospice as soon as possible so that you have access to all of their wonderful services. (No, it doesn't mean they have to be very near death!--more about that in another blog...or check with the hospices in your community.)
  • Do you have relatives or friends who will come in for a while, or several days? As I did, try to start using them early on, so your loved one is used to the occasional “change of guard”—and your volunteers grow used to the changes in your loved one too.
  • Do you have any other ideas to share with our readers?
 Remember that taking care of yourself is one of the most important—and loving—things you can do for your loved one. Where would they be without you?

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