As January arrives, we often think of what we might do differently in the coming year, and sometimes we make resolutions, hoping for better results.
Caregivers for loved ones living with dementia know that the stress and the demands on our time will probably not change in the coming year. For some, it may become even more difficult, which is good reason to assess our situation to see if we can do things a little better, a little smarter, and a little easier for ourselves.
So, let me suggest a few New Year resolutions for caregivers:
• Resolve to be kind to yourself! Remind yourself daily that you are doing the best you can for the person you love. Don’t beat yourself up for what you are not able to do.
• Resolve to create or improve your support network or care giving team! Find those people who may bring you meals, shop for you, assist you with household tasks, and offer you respite.
• Resolve to delegate! Make a list of your daily tasks and be ready to hand off tasks – no matter how small — when someone asks if there is anything they can do to help.
• Resolve to attend support groups! Find a group that you are comfortable with so that you may be able to learn from others who share this journey.
• Resolve to take care of yourself! – You cannot be a good caregiver if you do not take care of yourself. Keep your doctor’s appointments, meditate, go for walks, listen to music, read, and take naps. Take time for yourself every day.
• Resolve to be social with your person with dementia! Find social activities that you both can take part in, such as memory cafes, community center events, or church socials.
• Resolve to continue your education! To properly care for your loved one, you need to understand the disease. You will find free workshops and Alzheimer’s Family Organization Caregiver Learning Days publicized in this newspaper.
• Resolve to keep up with your journaling! Keeping a journal is therapeutic, and it will help you identify the patterns and routines that will make your task easier.
• Resolve to create realistic expectations! You may need to lower your expectations. Don’t demand too much from your loved one living with dementia, or too much from yourself.
• Resolve to pay attention to what is around you! Your loved one living with dementia requires a calm, predictable, managed environment. Music is one of the best ways to achieve this. Remember to play the music your person loves more often.
• Resolve to keep up with your paperwork! Be sure this year that your advanced directives, DNR, living will, and other critical documents are in order. This is the task we most commonly put off until later.
• Resolve to be empathetic and practice compassionate care! Just keep reminding yourself: Your loved one is not trying to give you a hard time. Your loved one is having a hard time. Yes, this is hard for you, but remember that it is even harder for them.
As a former caregiver for my husband Albert, I understand that the demands can be overwhelming and all-consuming. I too had to ask for help, and sometimes it was way too late because I thought it was my duty to do it myself. This is a common mistake we can all avoid.
In the coming year, just allow yourself to be open to trying something new. Keep an open mind and look for opportunities to involve others. Try not to focus on the deficits of your loved one living with dementia, but explore what they can do to participate with you in their care. Give them a purpose, and find ways to become a care partner rather than a caregiver. As you make your list of resolutions, remember that they should all be based on an underlying philosophy which I express in my favorite slogan: We all deserve the best!
Debbie Selsavage is a Certified Independent Trainer in the Positive Approach to Care, a Certified Dementia Practitioner, and President of the Board of Directors of the Alzheimer’s Family Organization. Her company, Coping with Dementia LLC, is dedicated to making life better for individuals and their caregivers who are living with dementia. Contact Debbie at [email protected].