For caregivers, just like being proactive is helpful in reducing mental stress, thinking preventatively is a vital step to ensure your physical well-being. Caregivers often forget there are inherent dangers to themselves and their loved ones while performing the physical demands of care. Lifting in particular, can be hazardous for your back, and unsafe should you hurt someone while moving them about. Daily care training is available. Along with considering your physical limitations, prioritize your own health when evaluating your overall caregiving needs.
Ensure respite time for yourself to get some energy renewal in the form of enjoying a hobby or simply getting together with a friend; and most importantly, ensure you are including some form of exercise in your busy schedule. Even walking 20-30 minutes a day, three times a week, can be very beneficial. Depending on your loved one’s abilities, you can also include them. Or better yet, ask a family member or friend to take your loved one on that walk while you take your own break.
Along with getting exercise, it is helpful to ensure you get a good night’s sleep. Sometimes your lack of sleep can be due to your loved one having difficulty at night, with wandering or sleep issues. But keep the word “preventative” in your mind when feeling like you can’t go to bed because there is too much else to do. Your good overall health today is more important to your loved one than doing that extra load of laundry.Prevent burn-out and illness by getting the rest you need, exercising, and eating well. And for the record, grabbing chips and crackers is not eating well.
Another important preventative measure is to figure out a Plan B for Dad’s care should you become ill. Don’t wait until you are sick, because the Plan B will just be you….and likely, will result in getting Dad sick, too. You also need a Plan B for when you are mobile. Always plan for those little unexpected issues while away from home. Pack a backpack with everyday necessities (bottled water, wipes, tissue, a towel, toileting items, extra diapers, medications, whatever your loved one might need should you get stuck in traffic, have a flat, etc.) and carry it with you.
Being preventive also means, evaluating your own limits. You really need to assess how much time can you afford for caregiving, finances, and what level of care are you comfortable with (are you comfortable dealing with incontinence, bathing care). You need to know when you must say no. A good way to approach this is a second journal. Your first journal was for personal reflections. A second journal can be a document for observing changes you see in your spouse as the disease progresses. You can note future care concerns here, and ask the physician for options during appointments. And as part of journaling the progression of change in your loved one you can start defining where you will need to draw the line as the care provider; difficult, but necessary. And as the disease progresses, do some research about both safety considerations for your home as well as available assistive technology that can help the physical demands of the caregiving role. There are aids for bathing and toileting; safety gates, personal emergency response systems, mobility monitors and tracking systems…all which can help reduce your burden and help keep your loved one safer. If you plan ahead and take care of yourself as a priority, you can prevent getting to a point where your body just starts to shut down from lack of self-care. That won’t help you or your loved one.
Make sure to practice the tips in the earlier, “The Mental You” post, too!
Blog written by Alzheimer’s Association Volunteer Diane Blum