Not everyone reading this post is a caregiver. Some of you have Alzheimer's, some of you have vascular dementia and some of you have other illnesses leading to dementia. If you are a caregiver, you aren't necessarily all the same type of caregiver. Some of you have a loved one at home and others have a loved one in a care facility. Some of you care for one person, some of your care for several.
There are even more differences than those above. Some readers are adult children and some of you are spouses. Some of you may be parents who have an adult child with early dementia. Some of you are professionals who work with people who have dementia, and their families. Whatever your involvement, people read about dementia because they care. Caring about dementia and those whose lives are changed by this disease is the common element that binds us together.
Since it is January of 2010, yet far enough into the month to have smudged it up a bit, maybe this is a good time to make a top ten list of things we caregivers need to do for ourselves and our loved ones this year. Many of the items on this list can be a task for care receivers, as well, depending on the stage of dementia they are in. We all have a purpose and part of that purpose is caring for each other. When a care receiver is in a stage where verbal communication is spotty or impossible, we as caregivers will try to remember what the person would have wanted for themselves if they could tell us.
Top Ten Resolutions
1. I will realize that, as a caregiver, if I don't take care of myself I could get sick. Then, my loved one would not have the best of me, or in the worst case scenario, he or she may not have my care at all. Therefore, I need to make taking care of my own health a priority. If I am the care receiver, I will ask for help in understanding, for as long as my disease allows me to understand, that my caregiving adult child or spouse needs to stay healthy for both of our sakes.
2. As a caregiver or care receiver I will do my best to understand that we all need good nutrition, some form of exercise, some mental stimulation that doesn't revolve around dementia, and some social life. I resolve to act on what is best for me and for my loved one. As a caregiver, I will challenge myself to present healthy options to my care receiver in a pleasant, friendly way, and I will try to offer choices. As a care receiver, I will try, in moments when I can, to understand that my caregiver wants to help me, not boss me around.
3. As a caregiver, I will try to keep outside friendships and activities. I will also realize that as caring as I am, my care receiver will be refreshed by other faces. Even if he or she complains, another caring option is good backup in case I get sick. With some time, my loved one may grow to enjoy our helpers. As a care receiver, I will try, for as long as my disease allows me this ability, to understand that my caregiver needs to have time alone, and I will do my best to get to know others who help.
4. Caregivers and care receivers generally benefit from organization. People need to be realistic about the fact that a caregiver could be incapacitated, so caregiving routines and medication schedules need to be written down and kept in an obvious place, with a note in a prominent place to help emergency responders find information. As a caregiver, I will take on the responsibility to let others know how to take care of my loved one in case I can't.
5. Caregivers and care receivers can benefit from reminiscing. This year, I, the caregiver, will dig out old photos and place them in albums with the aid of my care receiver, when possible. We will discuss past occurrences which will help us both remember each other in times when we were stronger. I will take my cues from my loved one, but will try to find stories and photos that bring up fond memories.
6. As a caregiver, I will remember that my loved one's body language may be the best cue to whether he or she is happy or sad, comfortable or uncomfortable, upset or content. I will remember, too, that my care receiver can read my body language even if he or she can't communicate. If I am upset or stressed, I will get some help so my care receiver can have a better day.
7. Caregivers and care receivers can help others. I will reach out for support from the greater community. Sharing the journey of dementia, whether from the view of a caregiver or a care receiver, is one of the gifts I can give others. I will work to increase awareness of dementia whether it's as a caregiver for someone with dementia or, for those who are able, what it's like to have the disease. If I can't speak about the disease, I will try to understand that my caregiver will help others through me and be proud of that fact.
8. I, the caregiver, will be my loved one's advocate in the greater community. This will mean that first I will seek the medical help needed and then I will work with the professionals who help us. I will educate myself so I know when my loved one is getting the best care possible, and I will learn how to bring forward problems in appropriate ways to protect my loved one.
9. I, the caregiver, will make every effort to make sure that my loved one and I aren't isolated socially. That may mean getting adult day care for my loved one so he or she has the company of peers, or it may mean finding ways to take my loved one to events that he or she can enjoy, or inviting in friends. I will do my best to help my loved one with dementia have a continuing feeling of purpose in life for as long as he or she can benefit from this.
10. I will seek support so I know that I am giving the best care possible. I will seek help so I can cope with the guilty feelings of inadequacy most caregivers experience. I, as a care receiver, will try for as long as I'm able to understand, that I didn't choose this disease and that I needn't feel guilty about being a "burden" to my loved one. Together, we will face the disease the best way we know how, and that generally means finding others who understand.
Published On: January 17, 2010