If you’re like most caregivers you are tired, stressed, and some days just can’t wait to crawl into bed. Are you taking care of yourself? Are you getting enough rest? Do you have the support you need? Are you listening carefully to the person you lovingly care for? Here’s a quick check-list for assessing how well you are caring for yourself and your loved one.
- Are you eating a poor breakfast or skipping breakfast? It is so important to begin the day with a nourishing meal. This is true for everyone, but especially important for caregivers. It’s recommended that we eat within one hour after waking to stabilize our blood sugar—which has dropped during sleep—so that your mood stays even and you can perform at your best. If not, you’ll be more apt to reach for a bagel or doughnut or another cup of coffee. After loading up on carbs and empty calories, it’s typical to feel hungry again within a couple of hours. And every time our blood sugar crashes, it’s a signal to the body to store calories. The same goes for a hungry body. If you don’t eat breakfast, your blood sugar will be low, and this too is a signal to the body to store calories, which adds fat around your middle. And, of course, the same applies to the person you care for.
Breakfasts of Champions
Instead of eating a bowl of corn flakes with a banana and low-fat milk, have a 2-egg omelet, slice of whole grain toast, a cup of fresh fruit and a cup of steamed greens such as kale. Then notice the difference in how you feel. You’ll have more stamina, less anxiety and depression, and will able to get through the whole day more easily.
- Whole-grain mini-quiche with 1/2 cup berries
- Oatmeal with prunes or raisins, walnuts or almonds, and cinnamon, whole milk
- Multigrain hot cereal, Greek yoghurt and fresh fruit, almonds
- Eggs with beans, salsa, and a side of greens
- Bagel with hummus, tomato and goat cheese
- Smoothie with greens, fruit, protein and flax
2. Do you say “Remember when . . . .or, I told you already . . .”
People with dementia typically do not remember what they said a few minutes ago. If your loved one repeats the same question over and over again, try not to get annoyed. Instead of reminding the person that they forgot what you told them a second ago rephrase it, breaking it down into a simple sentence . . . or completely change the subject.
If you reminisce about something instead of saying, “Remember when we were kids and we’d ride around the neighborhood on our bikes, etc.” tell the story: “You had a red bike and I had a blue bike and we loved to ride through the woods on the bike path, etc.”
If he or she asks about a spouse or parent who has passed away, change the subject to something like this: “Mom and Dad met in New York City at a dance, etc.” If the person keeps asking when he or she can go “home” ask the person to tell you about “home.” You might have to distract your loved one by taking a walk, listening to music, looking at pictures in a book or magazine. Saying “You are already home,” probably will not work.
3. Unusual irritability or anger can be the sign of a UTI or other physical ailment that requires attention. Acting out or acting differently than what is the person’s usual behavior can be a cry for help, especially if the person is non-verbal. Make an appointment to see a doctor to rule out anything suspicious.
4. How well are you sleeping? There are plenty of studies linking poor sleep to a host of physical and psychological ailments: poor immunity, elevated levels of cortisol and insulin, weight gain, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and even Alzheimer’s disease. And irritability, foggy thinking and anxiety, depression and low energy can directly impact your ability to care for another person, do household chores and get in the way of your interpersonal relationships. Good sleep hygiene is the first step to improving your sleep. Click here to read a list of things to try when you are stressed, your mind is on overload, or when you’ve just had too much stimulation and can’t fall asleep or stay asleep.
5. Are you and/or your loved one lonely? Caregiving can isolate us from our friends and family. You may feel that your social network has disappeared or that your friends have “jumped ship.” This may also be true for the person you care for. Set up times for family and friends to visit or take your loved one on an outing. And don’t be afraid to ask your own friends for support. Find respite care and set up a lunch date with a friend. It’s vital to have social interaction for your mental, physical and emotional health.
6. Is there adequate lighting in the home where your loved one lives? People with dementia can become fearful because they don’t see things spatially the same way we do. Their sense of space is distorted and their vision gets skewed, not because there is something physically wrong with their eyes. But rather, the brain interprets what the eyes see, and when the brain doesn’t work right our perception gets distorted. Two things you can do to help are to put extra lights in dark areas of the living quarters and remove throw rugs in order to reduce falls.
7. Are you and your loved adequately hydrated? Drink at least 6-8 glasses of water each day to keep your body hydrated and to flush out toxins. The brain is 70% water when fully hydrated. When it is dehydrated, neurotransmission—which is heavily dependent on water—is impaired, resulting in poor memory, concentration and impaired abstract thinking. The same goes for your loved one. Memory is much improved when the brain is hydrated. Seniors often lose the signal that they are thirsty and dehydration can be a serious problem for the frail and elderly. If your loved one lives in a memory care home or nursing home, make sure water is provided throughout the day–not just that it is available but that it is offered.
Caregiving is probably the hardest thing you will ever do. You are doing the best that you can, but please remember to take care of yourself.
For more information on how you can reduce stress and boost your happiness and health, read Calmer Waters: The Caregiver’s Journey Through Alzheimer’s & Dementia.