Updated: Oct 5
If you’re a dementia caregiver, you wear many different hats. Each day, you assess the needs of the person that you care for and make decisions to ensure that the person receives everything they need. You cook, clean, run errands, go to appointments, pay bills, buy groceries, do laundry, help with personal care, and perhaps work outside of the home. You manage to get it all done and the next day you begin all over again.
There is no question that a great many demands are placed on you as a caregiver. It takes a special person and a unique set of skills to succeed in taking care of a person living with dementia, as well as yourself. It helps to be well organized, and to have tools, systems and resources in place that will support you along the way.
Here are seven suggestions to make the caregiving journey a little easier:
Buy or borrow a few books on dementia – Taking care of someone with dementia is unfamiliar to most people. There is no dementia caregiver’s handbook and much of what you learn will be by trial and error. There are, however, several good books available. Learning more can be one of the best ways to reduce stress, and increase your knowledge and awareness to help demystify the condition of dementia. One recommended book is When Someone You Know Has Dementia by June Andrews. It is full of useful information and practical tips, and written in a down-to-earth and easy-to read tone. Another excellent book to have on hand is The 36-Hour Day by Nancy Mace and Peter Rabins.
Create a support network – You cannot take care of someone by yourself 24/7. You will need help from other people who can share some of the load. They may be family members or friends, paid professionals or volunteers. Be sure to let people know how they can help and what you need.
Contact your local Alzheimer’s Association chapter – Visit their website and learn about the services and resources that they have available. You may be surprised at how they can help.
Schedule respite time – As a caregiver you must have time to yourself. If you don’t make time to relax or do something that gives you pleasure, you are almost guaranteed to get sick and to burn-out. As the expression goes, you can’t pour from an empty cup. Decide what you will do for self-care and make it a priority, even if it’s only 20 minutes a day. Put it on the calendar and protect that time as though your life depends on it because it does!
Practice deep breathing exercises – You may balk at the idea of taking time for yourself because you are too busy taking care of your loved one. If you don’t have 20 minutes a day, begin with deep breathing exercises that only take a few minutes to do. Deep breathing exercises have been proven to help lower the stress hormone, cortisol. Caregivers often live with high levels of cortisol due to the stress of caregiving. Lowering blood levels of cortisol by practicing deep breathing exercises can lead to very positive health benefits.
Have the name and number of someone to call in an emergency – Do you know who to call in an emergency? Can you find their phone number quickly? Most of all, can you depend on the person to be there on short notice? We all need a trusted go-to person to count on when we need them. Have their phone number in a visible place and keep in touch on a regular basis. Create a plan and let them know what kind of help you may need in both emergency and non-emergency situations.
Pack an overnight hospital bag – A trip to the hospital is often not a planned event so it is best to be prepared for the unexpected. Have a bag ready to go for both yourself and your loved one. The hospital is typically not a comfortable place so bring along some essentials. It is recommended that you include bottles of water, snacks, tissues, a comfy pillow and blanket, headphones to listen to music, something familiar like a comfort toy, a small photo album with pictures of family members, a cell phone recharger, and a change of clothing.
Caregiving is often a marathon, not a sprint. Be careful not to stretch yourself too thin. Look for resources, ask for support and accept the help with open arms!
What else would you add to a caregiver’s toolbox? Please let us know and we will add it to the list!