respite time for the caregiver
The tethered caregiver
Imagine that you are the primary family caregiver for a loved one with dementia in your home. You have no time to yourself while in the house so how can you possibly find the time to leave your loved one alone to complete some pressing errands?
But you do leave the house and you do leave your loved one alone at home, because you haven’t figured out how to get someone else to do those errands for you, or you don’t know how to secure someone else to watch your loved one while you do the errands. I favor the latter option because a 24/7 caregiver absolutely must get out of the house and feed her soul while crossing items off her To Do list.
I went to Staples office supply store yesterday to pick up three items for my writing quest: a new thumb drive that I can trust to store my magnificent masterpiece of a manuscript; a new mouse pad because my right wrist and hand have worn out the previous one; and a ream of lined filler paper for taking notes and drafting new ideas.
Because it is currently back-to-school shopping time, Staples was crazy-busy yesterday. The checkout line was very long and directly behind me was a young mother with a shopping cart filled with supplies for her two school-aged children. An older woman with two items asked if she could please go ahead of her because she had a sick husband at home; the young mother graciously agreed to let her do so. When it was my turn at the register, I turned to the older woman and asked her to go ahead of me to which she responded, “Oh thank you so much, you see I have a situation at home and I need to get back quickly.”
Have any of you been there – done that?
Do you know someone who has?
The following advice goes to those of you who know someone in a similar predicament as the woman at the Staples store: be the respite that person needs. Don’t wait for them to ask for help – they won’t ask you; you must make the first move. Put yourself in that someone’s shoes and imagine racing through your errands, all the while freaking out wondering what’s going on in the house while you’re away: the person with dementia wandering away from the house or falling down in or around the house, turning on the stove or running the water without turning either off, or letting someone inside the house who should not be inside the house.
Now it’s your turn: imagine the worst-case scenario and apply it to this situation.
Now do something about it.
Other articles to inspire you:
Solo Caregiving; Helping an Alzheimer’s Caregiver; Caregiving: Grief, Guilt, Exhaustion, and Discrimination
I Can’t Win.
For those of you who have not experienced the stresses of caregiving, or being the point-person for a loved one with dementia or other debilitating disease – please read the above-linked article. It will give you a wee taste of:
a) the toll that caregiving takes on loved ones;
b) the toll of being a spouse with someone with dementia; and
c) the extreme frustration of trying to communicate with professionals while coordinating care for your loved one.
Please read this article – it will give you a healthy respect for your coworker, neighbor, family member – who is on duty 24/7 with caregiving tasks. Whether the caregiver is performing these tasks long-distance, as was the case for me in relation to my father’s care, or performing them on-site, the task is monumental and deserves a great amount of respect and understanding.
Caregiver: put on your oxygen mask first.
The airline flight attendant gives pre-flight safety instructions:
“In case of a loss of airplane pressure, oxygen masks will drop from the overhead compartments. Put mask on yourself first before assisting children or those not able to help themselves.”
Why? Unless the able-bodied person is fed oxygen, he won’t be able to help any one else.
Whether you are actively providing care to your loved one or you are the point-person managing that care, you are stretched thin.
Your reserves are low.
Your tank is nearing empty.
You’re on the path to caregiver burnout – or you’ve already arrived.
You love to think that you can do it all:
- have a full-time job, and a full-time family;
- have numerous duties in your own household that obliterate any “idle” time during your day;
- you’re on the community board or other volunteer activity; and, oh yah
- you’re responsible for your aging parent’s, or spouse’s, day-to-day maintenance.
Not only are you burning the midnight oil; you’re burning the candle at both ends and about to self-destruct.
“But I have to do this. I have a lot of people counting on me to take care of dad. If I don’t do it, who will? I won’t be a dutiful son/daughter, if I walk away from all my responsibilities!”
Oftentimes what happens in these situations is a person ends up being of no good to anyone.
- You’re taking more and more time off from work either due to your own illnesses or to attend to the needs of others;
- Your spouse and children are suffering from the constant stress that your over-extension of commitments places on the household;
- The project for which you volunteered at the PTA or Boy Scouts, or FILL IN THE BLANK, is dead in the water because you don’t have the time or energy to devote to the cause; but
- Your loved one for which you provide care is doing just fine because he/she is receiving all of your attention.
Keep this up and you’ll be no good to anyone because a vehicle doesn’t run on an empty tank and neither can you. It’s time for you to attend your own “care conference” to come up with a realistic plan of how to direct your own health and well-being.
The “To Do” List vs the “Don’t Do” List:
You weren’t put on this earth to help everyone and despite your well-meaning belief that you can do it all – you can’t, and you’ll never be able to do so.
- Write a list of everything you currently feel obligated to do each week. Now cross out a third of that obligation list. Do what you can to delegate duties and/or designate other willing people to carry a third of your burden. You should already start feeling better.
- Now eliminate – or temporarily withdraw from – another third of your obligations. You won’t offend others by doing so if they know you well enough to understand your reasons for stepping back a bit. I’m certain they know that they will be able to count on you later when your life situation isn’t so acute. You’re not dropping out, you’re just putting yourself on pause.
- Reconnect with the family in your household. Don’t risk losing your family. You need them on your team and they need you. They will be around long after the loved one for whom you’re providing care passes away. You want your family with you now, and you’ll want their support later.
- Assemble a caregiving team. In my blog entries: Caregiving: The Ultimate Team Sport and Solo Caregiving I address the importance of reaching out to others and tapping into resources that will help you stay sane and healthy while on this caregiving path.
You owe it to yourself, and your loved one, to start taking care of yourself. So place your own well-being at the top of your priority list. I can pretty much guarantee that you won’t regret it.