Starting The New Year Right With Three Tips For Caregivers

The start of the New Year gives us a good reason to start anew. It’s time to take another look at the level of care we provide. If we can improve one area to make our caregiving lives a little easier, life will be better for us and our loved ones. Why not build on the momentum of others setting and working toward their New Year’s resolutions?

While the media focus on the typical goals to lose weight, eat right and stop smoking, how about setting a goal to find a healthy balance between self-care and care for a loved one? Easier read than done, right? Yet, you can divert the potential for caregiving to grow into an overwhelming, lonely and thankless job, when you use the right tools.

Three Tips For Caregivers

There are a number of tools to help caregivers better manage and even lighten the load. We’ll begin with three important ones.

Learn as much as you can about the disease to know what to expect.

When we start caregiving without knowing what to expect, we’re driving blind. The next time you get behind the wheel, close your eyes before stepping on the accelerator. What do you suppose will happen? Don’t laugh! Many family members, myself included, begin caregiving blind and quickly run into obstacles.

Most of us have wondered, how hard can it be to provide care for someone? I did!Let’s just say, there’s more to it than meets the eye. Iceberg? Titanic? Avert the sinking feeling knowing that what you see it just the tip of the iceberg. The massive responsibility you’ll undertake is hidden and you’ll have to dive deeper to learn about what you should expect.

Let’s say you’re caring for a person with dementia, learn what kind of dementia – Alzheimer’s, Lewy body, vascular, Parkinson’s, or rarer forms such as frontotemporal lobe. In this case, learn also at what stage of the disease a person is. In the early stages of dementia, a person is fairly independent with minimal care needs. Later on, cognitive impairing diseases like Alzheimer’s, require continual reminders and then assistance with the activities of daily living such as eating, toileting, bathing and dressing.

Find others like you in a support group—in person or online.

Caregiving can be an isolating experience. Friends disappear as you find yourself digging deeper and deeper into your role as caregiver. Time to make new friends. There are thousands of caregiver support groups that meet in-person and online around the world. Ideally, find and attend a few focused on people caring for the same disease or illness. Participate in a few until you find one you feel comfortable attending that meets your needs. Depending on where you live, you could attend one in person while receiving free respite care for your loved one. Get help in locating appropriate support groups by contacting organizations’ hotlines. You could also attend online and, for a change of pace, attend one in another area or country; although, it will be harder to learn about local resources.

My experience, after friends, co-workers, and even family scattered to distant lands was fellow caregiver support group members became my family and in the end, my life support group. I attended two—a weekly in-person group and one online with people from around the world.

We all need someone who speaks the same language, understands and laughs at the same jokes. We need someone who has our back when we feel uncertain and weakened by the weight of our responsibilities. Find the right support group and you’ll find these and more. I found a bonus benefit. A couple support group members were nurses and family caregivers who knew more than a few of the experts I consulted. It was helpful having information from both sources to make a decision in the best interests of my father who lived with Alzheimer’s prior to his passing.

Get Help. You Can’t Do It Alone.

No (wo)man is an island. We’re all interconnected and need one another if we’re to survive and thrive. Fortunately, there are resources today to help caregivers for the long run. You’ve undoubtedly heard, caregiving is not a sprint, it’s a marathon. Having run one full marathon at 26.2 miles and another half marathon, the key to crossing the finish line is to pace yourself. For us slower runners, it includes taking water, bathroom and snack breaks thanks to the volunteers at various points along the route.

Similarly, there are many resources along the caregiver’s journey. Martyrs are not heroes. I’ve seen exhausted caregivers refuse help as they sprinted straight through life’s finish line leaving loved ones stranded. It makes sense to pace yourself while taking regular respites to regain enough balance and energy to finish this caregiving marathon.

Start the New Year right and use these three tools to lighten your caregiving load as you balance self-care with care for your loved one. Learn as much as you can about your care recipient’s disease or illness, attend a support group in person or online, and use your community’s resources such as in-home and adult day care in order to cross the finish line of caregiving.

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