Caring for Yourself When Caregiving
The TV ads for a new dementia drug make it look so easy. “He’s been my everything, so now I’m his.” Everyone is smiling. The caregiver bestows a loving kiss. The person being cared for looks content. The message? “Take this pill and everyone’s pain and stress will evaporate.” I wish.
However much we love someone who is chronically ill or suffering from dementia; however grateful we are for the years of love and companionship; however much we want to be there — “there” is a very difficult place to be. Most of us can manage a few days of emergency but when we know the emergency will extend far into the future, it’s difficult to keep up the energy and optimism we need to manage. What those ads don’t show — and what a pill can’t fix — is the stress of it.
Stress: You don’t know exactly what you’re supposed to do to keep your loved one healthy and content.
What to do: Recognize that caregiving is a job. It takes time and attention and skills. You needn’t feel guilty that you haven’t yet learned what to do or how to do it. It’s one of those areas of life that no one is adequately prepared for and no one knows how to do exactly right. Search the Internet for hints. Talk to people you know who have been there and done that. If your community has a senior center, see if services include a consultant or counselor to help you understand how to provide good care.
Stress: If your partner has become disabled, you now have to do double duty.
Every couple divides the turf. “You clean the bathroom. I’ll take care of the yardwork.” “You pay the bills. I’ll do all the shopping.” Now you have to do everything solo to keep your household in order. If you are caring for a parent or elder relative, you now feel like you have to keep up both households. It can be daunting.
What to do: Assess which household tasks you can let go of for now. Real friends won’t judge less than perfect housekeeping. Neither should you. Maybe you won’t tend a garden this year. Maybe frozen dinners will do. Make things easier for yourself wherever you can.
Your health insurance may cover some or all of the cost of a visiting nurse or a personal care assistant. While they are tending to your partner, you have time to do other things.