I am often asked, “How did you do it?” My answer is always the same. She is my mother.
May I suggest that if you see this day coming, research and gather as much information as you can about what is ahead. Oftentimes, caregivers have no idea what they are getting into, what lies ahead of them. Before you choose to take on this role, please do your homework and fully realize the monumental responsibility you are taking on.
During the time of taking care of Mom, I felt alone and isolated, almost daily. It was oftentimes unbearable. But in my heart, I’ve always known Mom would have done the same for me. I have no doubt she would have given her life for her children.
I knew nothing about being anyone’s caregiver. I was not too skeptical in the beginning. After all, how hard can it be to take care of your own mother?
It took me about three months to realize that if I would survive caregiving, I needed to re-group and come up with workable solutions. My husband and I were both working full-time jobs and needed to re-think the responsibility we volunteered to take on.
Following are some of our ideas and workable solutions that worked for us. Please keep in mind, our experience with caregiving was with the most common form of dementia, Alzheimer’s.
After three months, we realized we needed outside help and sought it. Don’t be too proud to ask. Resources are plentiful on the Internet. I urge you to seek them out.
Ask your relatives or others for assistance when you need it. Some are willing to help, some are not. Some will be your ally, some will not.
When someone does offer to help you, take it! Don’t try to be the hero and do it all yourself. Let go and reach out to those willing to assist you. The only way to take care of others is to take care of yourself. Remember, put your oxygen on first!
Resentment towards the ones who are unwilling or unable to help will only make an already difficult situation worse.
When your loved one reaches the point of needing professional help, don’t be too proud to ask. You are only hurting yourself and your loved one if you do not seek out help.
If you find yourself at your wit’s end, walk away for a few minutes and calm yourself down. A short walk or jog always worked for me.
If you are caring for a loved one with dementia, above all else, remember that this is through no fault of their own. Their mind is diminishing a little bit every day. It is okay to rant and rave, but it is never okay to take it out on your ill loved one.
I quickly learned I would need to pick my battles with Mom. If she did not want to eat, we just tried again later. If she did not want to go for a walk, I’d just try again later.
Many times, you will need to step into their reality because it will likely be impossible for them to be in your reality. You will find strength you never knew you had.
Cherish your moments with your loved one. Tell them frequently you love them. Remember, the day is approaching when they will not be here for you to tell them that.
As often as possible, take time to do something special for yourself. Go to your favorite restaurant. Go see a movie you’ve been wanting to see. How about a manicure or a pedicure, or both? How awesome it would feel for someone to give you a wonderful foot massage!
If you simply can’t leave, as is often the case, have a long, warm bubble bath. Grab a cappuccino and enjoy an evening in front of the fireplace reading.
Try, as much as possible, to keep a sense of humor. Put a smile on your face, and you may find being a caregiver a bit more tolerable. There can be joy and happiness in most things. You can find it.
Make compassion your number 1 priority. There but for the grace of God go I. Remember, you may follow in your loved one’s footsteps one day. One of the most compassionate gestures you can do is to talk. Talk in a calm, soft manner so as not to alarm the person you are caring for.
Please take your ill loved one’s feelings into consideration. They very likely still have feelings, though they may not be able to express them. In fact, I truly believe if they could, they would choose NOT to need to be cared for.
Even if you need to call in a professional organizer (yes, there are such people), your life will be much simpler if you can organize your caregiving life. Get rid of clutter. Label things if you need to. The less time you spend looking for items, the less complicated your journey can be.
Whatever your loved one is still able to do, let them. They may not be able to take a bath, but if they can wash their face, let them. They may not be able to put toothpaste on their toothbrush, but if they are able to brush their teeth, even a little bit, let them.
Recognize what they are still able to do, and help them do it. Continue talking to them, even if they cannot respond. They still feel, even if they cannot express it.
Try to keep people around your ill loved one to a minimum. No matter if we have a simple flu bug or are ravished by the unrelenting disease of Alzheimer’s, too many people around can be annoying. We want peace and quiet.
Don’t try to rush when taking care of them. They will notice. Relax, take a few deep breaths, and proceed with patience.
Keep in mind the fear that your loved one must feel. They are losing control, they likely feel isolated, they may be close to the end of their earthly life. Let them know they are valued, that their presence has brought meaning to life. Let them know they will never be forgotten.
In situations like these, caregiver support groups can be invaluable. There is little that compares to bonding with those who are going through the same struggles and heartaches as you are. This is one of the reasons there are so many groups on Facebook. There are tons of groups on there for caregivers.
If you have chosen to be the caregiver for someone, advocating for this person should be your primary goal. The quality of their life depends on you and how you approach this responsibility.
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