How do you know when it is time to become the caregiver?
November is National Caregiver’s Month and National Alzheimer’s Awareness Month; a month to show support and recognize the everyday efforts of those caring for a loved one and for those whose lives are affected by Alzheimer’s Disease. Thank you.
Generally, we become a caregiver in one of two ways. Sometimes, caregiving sneaks up on us, gently nudging us along; we may not even notice the change. It starts out small — picking up a prescription or a few groceries, cooking a meal, raking the lawn, or scheduling an appointment for our loved one. Gradually, you realize you are doing more and more, and your loved one is becoming more and more dependent on you.
Other times, the change is drastic; it startles us. We become a caregiver overnight because of a serious event — a stroke, a heart attack or a fall. We struggle to comprehend what happened.
In either case, the life you were leading yesterday is not the same as the one you have today. You are now caring for someone else. You are now a caregiver.
Warning signs that more help may be needed:
- Neglecting personal hygiene and grooming (noticeable body odor, poor oral care, disheveled appearance, wearing the same outfit several days in a row)
- Challenges with mobility (difficultly moving around, transferring, falling, unexplained bruises, cuts and scrapes)
- Changes in eating habits (apparent weight loss due to loss of appetite, poor diet, difficulty cooking and shopping for food, spoiled food that doesn’t get thrown out)
- Changes in behavioral and mental status (loss of interest in activities that were previously important, missed appointments, inability to keep track of time, changes in mood)
- Changes in tidiness and sanitation in a previously well-kept home (stacks of unopened mail and unpaid bills, stained or wet carpet or furniture)
It can be a challenge to know when to step in and become more involved. If you notice your loved one is struggling with any of the above warning signs, it’s time to have an open and honest conversation with them. Knowing it is the right thing to do doesn’t make the discussion any easier. Most of the time our older loved ones know their cognitive and physical abilities are waning and realize they will have to rely on someone else to help manage their daily needs.
This realization can bring a flood of emotions — anger, denial, resentment — and it can all be focused on you. Heated discussions can erupt. They may see it as an invasion of their privacy, they may blame you for taking away their independence, and they may become even more stubborn and refuse your help. It is a difficult line to walk.
So, what can you do?
- Be open and honest. Share your feelings and concerns, no matter how uncomfortable this may be.
- Remind your loved one that you are here to support them. It is easy for your parent or loved one to feel threatened and see you as the enemy when they feel their independence is being taken away.
- Acknowledge and validate their feelings and emotions. Remember, this is just one more turning point in their life. Validating their feelings and emotions is demonstrating that you understand what they are feeling without trying to talk them out of it or shame them. It doesn’t mean you agree with them or you think their emotional response is warranted.
- Include them in the decision-making process. Give your loved one some control in all the decisions by providing them with as many options and as much information as they can understand and process.
- Keep the lines of communication open with your loved one.
- Keep things in perspective in your own mind. You have a life beyond caregiving. You need to set boundaries on what you are willing and able to do.
- Treat your loved one as you would like to be treated.
The goal is not to take away anyone’s independence, but to keep them safe while maintaining as much of their independence as possible for as long as possible.
Stay well, stay healthy, stay connected,