Ellen is a grandmother who now must care for her husband, who has Alzheimer’s disease. She no longer has the family over on holidays, misses her grandchildren’s activities, and even going to get her hair done has become an unpleasant chore. Caring for her husband has made her stressed and isolated.
Caregiving can take all your time and energy, and many caregivers end up feeling isolated. They lack the time or energy to visit with friends and family. Some feel guilty about time spent away from their loved one. Sometimes the receiver of the care is demanding and complains when the caregiver is not available, making guilt a much bigger issue.
Socializing should be a priority. For one thing, social isolation is unhealthy. Caregivers often gain weight, develop high blood pressure or become depressed because of social isolation. Many are worried that taking time for themselves will take away from the care. The opposite is true. Stress, depression and isolation are not only damaging to the caretaker; they actually harm the quality of care. It is vital for the caretaker to take time for him or herself.
If you are a caregiver, ask for help and get someone to spell you. It is not only good for you, it is good for your loved one. Even short breaks can be reinvigorating. There are agencies that offer “respite care.” Respite care is provided by a caregiver who comes occasionally, even just a few hours each week. Use the time to recharge. A walk in the park, having lunch with a friend or going to a movie will do the trick. Connect with friends; they can be very helpful. Even if they do not fully understand what you are going through, they can offer support in other ways.
Take time for yourself when your loved one is napping or occupied. During the day, the internet can help. You can use Facetime or Skype to connect to friends. You may not have time to meditate but take five minutes to concentrate on nothing but your breathing. Simply close your eyes and think only of each breath as it goes in and out. Even a couple of minutes of this will lower stress hormones. Creating a calm environment will give you more time during the day. Sounds, like nature sounds or classical music, create calmness. Getting rid of any clutter will also help.
There are support groups that can help to connect with people who are going through the same thing. Use social media; there are online support groups. This allows connection to people who are going through the same thing. Some social media outlets will allow the caregiver to vent frustrations anonymously and read of the frustration of others. This will help them know that they are not alone.
Sources: National Institute on Aging
Contact the Area Agency on Aging and Disabilities of Southwest Washington at (360) 694-8144 or IAClark@dshs.wa.gov to learn more about support available to family caregivers.