How can we take care of the caregiver?
“I feel like a caged bird!” This is what an attractive 60 year old woman said at one of our caregiving workshops. She was the full-time caregiver of her husband who had Alzheimer’s. “I feel like a caged bird. My freedom is gone. I am on duty 24 hours a day!”
Donita Robards, who is a registered nurse and also a parish nurse at my church, writes the following advice to caregivers: (Even if you are not presently a caregiver that role may be in your future; so, it is wise for all of us to listen:)
Being a caregiver—especially a full-time caregiver– is one of the most taxing roles many of us will ever find ourselves in. Because of the obligations to those we care for, it is often unthinkable to consider ways to care for ourselves. Yet, it is critical that we do. Finding ways to refresh and nurture our spirits in small ways can provide a deep peace that goes a long way towards improving our mental and spiritual health, as well as our physical health.
Studies show that caregivers frequently die before the ones they care for because they do not take care of our own needs.
Each of us is unique and must seek our own individual plan for (refreshment and) spiritual and mental growth. The plan should be realistic and measurable. It is important to find several small things that can you can fit into your already busy schedule.
Some people like to have a theme or a goal which they will work on for a year. It could be learning a new skill, improving a relationship, or reading every book by a favorite author. I have found that a year is too long for me. I like to change things up every couple months. Following are some examples of things to consider:
Reading is a life-long favorite activity for many people. In the midst of caregiving, it can be a wonderful escape from routine. Reading can be fit into just about any time of day, and contrary to popular opinion, it doesn’t take a large chunk of time. Cut out a newspaper clipping you want to read, and take it with you to a doctor’s appointment. Read a short devotional in the morning, or a short chapter book on a break. If the book would be of interest to the person you are caring for, read it out loud. The point is to invest time in your interests, even if your free-time is limited,
Enjoying nature is a wonderful way to refresh yourself and to connect with God. It can be easier to pray while walking on a wooded trail or along the beach. It may be easier to go to a park in the early morning, on a lunch hour, or after dinner. If possible, get away by yourself. If that is not possible, and the person you are caring for can get out, take them with you. It is better to get out with your charge than to never get out at all.
Food is always a great pick-me-up. Splurge once in a while on an ice cream cone. Make it a goal to try every flavor at your favorite ice cream shop. (Hmmm. I like this suggestion.) If ice cream is not an option due to dietary concerns or personal preference try something else. How many new ways are there to make a salad? Have fun trying new foods, even at home.
Thank you Donita for sharing some ways that caregivers can refresh and renew their spirits. . .even if it is for just a few minutes.
I would like to add two ideas to Donita’s list:
Keep your sense of humor. This includes the ability to laugh at yourself. The act of laughing help your body fight stress. Several weeks ago, I told you about my friend Nancy who is the full time caregiver of her husband who has Parkinson’s Disease. She discovered a little prayer which helps her when she is tired and overwhelmed and about to scream: She says:
God, grant me a vacation to make bearable what I can’t change,
a friend to make it funny, and the wisdom to never get my knickers in a knot
because it solves nothing and makes me walk funny!
Nancy says, “It may not work for everyone, but it makes me smile and laugh, and it changes my attitude.”
Rent some funny movies. (For a list of humorous movies, ask Google.) When the person you are caring for hears you laugh or sees you smile, he or she just might feel happier too, or try a light-hearted book or CD, like Ken Davis’s, “Lighten Up.”
Another idea is to obtain and consult a wonderful resource titled, Coach Broyles’ Playbook for Alzheimer. The book is divided into the three stages of Alzheimer’s disease, and each section includes practical tips and a section on, “Taking Care of Yourself.” There are wisdom nuggets inserted all the way through. So, I will end with one of those nuggets:
“Take time each day to celebrate positive things. Focus on what your loved one can still do–not what she has lost.” Coach Frank Broyles