For many of us, a New Year’s resolution is something that goes in one year and out the other. But for a caregiver who bears the noble yet heavy responsibility of looking after a loved one with dementia or Alzheimer’s Disease, the start of a new year brings about an opportunity to alleviate feelings of burnout and set goals to achieve a much-needed balance in life. Caring for a loved one is a heavy emotional burden, especially so for persons with dementia.
The fact that the disease is fatal in nature and gets progressively worse makes the caregiving journey even harder. A 2016 study funded by the National Healthcare Group and carried out by Tan Tock Seng Hospital’s (TTSH) Institute of Geriatrics and Active Ageing on its patients’ caregivers at its Memory Clinic found that forty to sixty percent of caregivers suffer from what they term as “Worry about Performance” stress, which stems from their feelings of inadequacy and self-criticism, and may lead to burnout in the long run.
A commonly overlooked fact is that people fulfilling a caregiving role also require care and support and that sometimes, the best way to care for your charge is to care for yourself first. Here are a few suggestions that are simple and achievable to start your year on a good note.
Grow Your Circle Of Care
Many caregivers take it upon themselves to handle the role, either out of a mindset that they can cope providing round-the-clock assistance alone, or a reluctance to trouble other family members. The truth is, a complex disease like dementia requires a village of help. In the new year, resolve to get more family members involved by sharing with them your experience and outsourcing some tasks. Ask your daughter to keep an eye on your loved one with dementia while you head out for a haircut, or rotate feeding duties with your husband to free up some time for you to engage in what you enjoy doing.
Ease The Tension
Taking on too much at a time can more often than not be counterproductive when it comes to providing care effectively. Go easy on yourself and find outlets for your stress to prevent it from bottling up inside. Set aside 20 minutes each day to engage in activities that relax your body and clear your mind, like yoga, walking, or simply soaking in a warm tub. You will find yourself returning to your duties more refreshed with wind under your sails.
Seek The Empowerment And Respite You Deserve
Caring for someone with dementia or Alzheimer’s can be challenging. Frequent mood swings, bouts of forgetfulness, and personality changes can disrupt not just the life of the person with dementia, but yours as well. Get help from the professionals and learn how to provide assistance by equipping yourself with knowledge on dementia and the needs of persons who have them. ADA’s Family of Wisdom (FoW) programme reaches out to caregivers by encouraging the sharing of caregiving experiences and tips among fellow caregivers, while providing emotional support and respite through social-recreational activities. Find out more about FoW here.
Help Your Loved Ones Create A Bucket List
Think bucket list and crazy activities like bungee jumping and a far-flung trip to the Africa comes to mind. Like your new year’s resolutions, it’s better to keep your loved one with dementia’s bucket list real and simple. It can range from something as doable as visiting a foreign country they have never been to before, to picking up a brain-healthy activity like learning the foxtrot. A bucket list allows a person with dementia to counter the symptoms of the disease by seizing back control and gaining a renewed sense of purpose and optimism. Watching them strike items off the list happily can also bring you much needed joy and satisfaction.
Dementia can strike someone suddenly and unexpectedly, and as one’s mental faculty declines over time, it can be harder to help them sort out their affairs. As negative as it may sound, you would be wise to start the new year with the end in mind by taking care of legal and financial matters while your loved one is still of sound mind. Get their essential documents in order, be it living wills, title deeds, or birth certificates, and earn yourself a peace of mind by being prepared.