Caregivers’ Corner: The Challenge for Weary Caregivers

Joan Jackson
By Joan Jackson December 15, 2015 22:37

woman holding hourglassDedicated caregivers are almost compulsively prone to taking care of everyone on the planet but themselves.

The powerful “Caregiver Bill of Rights,” by author Jo Horne, starts with “I have the right to take care of myself. This is not an act of selfishness. It will give me the capability of taking better care of my loved one.”

But what does that mean in practice?

Susan, a Mother Lode caregiver, is trying to come up with strategies to get her husband with dementia to eat his breakfast and take his medications. Embarrassed, she confesses that she is increasingly depressed and angry at her situation – and that she is beginning to hate the man she is so determined to help.

Meanwhile, she downplays her own worsening diabetes, skyrocketing blood pressure and steady weight gain. “I just don’t have time to think about food until one or two in the afternoon,” she admits. “Then I slam-dunk everything in the refrigerator.”

My question to Susan is, “What if you eat your own breakfast and take your own medications first? He can watch a TV show if he’s up, then you can feed him and give him his meds afterward.” Leery, she agrees to try it.

Two weeks later she is excited. Taking care of her own needs first leaves her more relaxed and less grouchy. Her blood pressure and diabetes are improving. And after a little TV time, her husband is actually more cooperative about eating and taking his medication.

Al is another foothills caregiver. He feels sad and hopeless as his wife’s rare brain disease progresses. For the past four years he has been feeding her, bathing her and exercising her limbs, all while keeping her safe and comfortable.

Now he is heartbroken that he is starting to dislike his wife. And as a recovering alcoholic, he worries that his 23 years of sobriety are in jeopardy.

My question to Al is, “What activity have you given up that used to bring you a sense of peace and well-being?”

He is stumped for a few moments, trying to remember his life before his wife’s illness.

“I used to love to go fishing, just getting out in nature,” he finally says.

Al’s homework is to get some in-home help for his wife so he can get away. He finally agrees to hire a caregiver for two days during the coming month.

His first day off is a bust. He tries fishing but spends the whole time worrying. Yet to his surprise, his wife and the caregiver are just fine when he returns home early. And with a new friend in the house, his wife seems more animated.

On Al’s second day off, he manages to take a few deep breaths – and even catches some fish.

Caregivers, take note: Susan and Al are each a little healthier, a bit less stressed and more patient with their loved ones because they took time to take care of their own needs.

Now, consider this question: What one thing can you do to take better care of yourself?

Joan Jackson is a partner with husband Peter Carrillo in Practical Dreamer (209-588-1835), whose services include free caregiver support groups sponsored by Area 12 Agency on Aging.

Copyright © 2015 Friends and Neighbors Magazine



Joan Jackson
By Joan Jackson December 15, 2015 22:37
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