February 2, 2022
So often we talk about the stressors and negative consequences of helping a loved one. But, what about the positive things that can happen? There actually are some benefits.
Care giving is full of ups and downs. Every day may be different. Different is not always a bad thing. You may even have more pleasant days than bad days. I know, some of you are thinking that pleasant days are not what you experience. I get it, not everything is going to be pleasant.
Think back to a rough day. One where it took you three hours to get them dressed and fed. Maybe, it was a day that they did not recognize you and they balked at every turn. It gets emotionally draining. We tend to remember all the problems and struggles that we deal with. Why? I am sure our amygdala has something to do with it. LOL. Look, we remember it because it messed with our plans. We hit a resistance or barrier of some kind. Did we shift our focus or try another way or even try again later? Nope. We pushed through and made it happen. What was left in our wake? Wasted time. Hurt feelings. Frustration. We just reinforced all of the negative feelings. We forgot to focus on the small victories. They can still get dressed and they can still eat. They can still get out. Your unmet expectations are what really caused the “problems.”
While we are focusing on a dementia or Alzheimer’s related issue today, it could be any chronic health condition that causes a decline in our loved one. A physical decline and/or a mental decline happens in a lot of other diagnoses.
I wish that I could tell you there are predictable patterns. It all depends on what area(s) of the brain are affected. Their brain is failing. You may experience a problem with the bathing issues and someone else may be dealing with the 500 questions a day issue (the same 500 questions). Maybe, they are still quite mobile and wander off, repeatedly. You must realize that all of these behaviors are UNCONTROLLABLE for folks with dementia. Alzheimer’s is the most common dementia. Analyze your own response to the frustration. See what you can modify or change to make the process go more smoothly. If you find yourself getting more and more frustrated, it is past time for you to take a break.
Next time, focus on what they can do. See what they can do for themselves, even if it takes longer. What would you consider a success, taking their limitations or bad days in to account? Go in with a smile and a warm fuzzy feeling in your attitude. They will pick up on that. Spend a few minutes talking with them. Touching them gently on the arm or shoulder. Use the phrase, “we are going to _____________ now.” One thing at a time. One arm at a time. Speak to them and tell them what “we” are doing in a calm, loving voice. Take a break, if they need to. You will still complete the tasks much easier and faster if they are helping and not fighting you. How ever long you think it should take … multiply that by 4. That is your timetable.
It will be in the small things that you will see what you have accomplished. Their calmness and trust will be so amazing. Even if they are no longer verbal, they sense emotions and do it quite well. They may look at you and not know your name or maybe not even who you are. But, they know that you are someone that cares about them, that loves them because they sense it.
You have a purpose. To help someone that you love have the best quality of life possible for them. It feels good to have a purpose. It feels good to help someone that you love. They have helped you and now you get to help them.
You being there is important. None of us want to be alone. Your time, effort and attention provides comfort to them. I hope that brings you comfort and joy.
You find yourself talking with them. For the first time, in a long time, you are having a real conversation. Telling and listening to stories.
You will be changed by this experience. Maybe you figure out what you want and what you do not want when you reach their age. Maybe you see the things that you need to take care of now, so your kids won’t have to struggle to find the information needed.
You probably will never receive an award for being a helper or care giver to your loved one. You may never even be appreciated. You may never be acknowledged for what you do or what you have sacrificed. Did you really do it for the accolades? Probably not, but some people do.
What if you haven’t been close and they need you now? Could this be a time of mending fences? Could this be a time of moving forward? What about resolving old hurts or negative feelings?
Care giving can teach you a big lesson about control. As in, you are not in control and you cannot control the outcomes. That, sucks! It is a lesson that we all need to learn. We can do our best. We can make plans. We can implement the plans. But, we have no control over the outcome.
Your own kids are watching you. They are watching how you act towards your mom, dad, spouse or partner. They are listening to what you say. They are observing what you do and how you handle problems or stressful situations. You are modeling for them what to do and how to act. Your attitude towards your loved one may very well become their attitude towards you when you need their help.
Even with all of the positives of helping a loved one … we all need to take breaks to rest and recharge.
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