Caregiving, and the physical and emotional stress that comes with it, are part and parcel of the process. After all, it is an act of love and kindness that requires one to put in a large part of him or herself into the role. As Florence Nightingale once said, “If a nurse declines to do these kinds of things for her patient, ‘because it is not her business’, I should say that nursing was not her calling”.
Caregiving can have its rewards, but a caregiver usually has to put the needs and well-being of the person under her care before her own. As such, taking on the honourable task of caregiving places an enormous toll on the person, and can strain even the most resilient and patient among us.
According to 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, forty to sixty percent of caregivers looking after dementia patients suffer from ‘significant stress’, and often show signs of inadequacy, self-criticism, and performance-based stress and worry. Termed worry about caregiver performance (WaP) stress, it generally stems from a seemingly innocuous desire to do better and provide more, which can easily spiral into feelings of guilt and shame. WaP is also especially germane to many Asian societies where obligation values to care for family members are strongly influential.
It is normal and unavoidable to encounter the odd bout of frustration or worry in the midst of caring for someone with dementia; a difficult disease naturally comes with its fair share of equally difficult moments and challenges. But continually letting the stress and resentment build up inside you will lead to caregiver burnout eventually. So how do you keep your stress levels on a leash while doing the best you can for your loved one with dementia?
Perseverance, Not Perfection
One of the first things to know is that just as the person with dementia is not perfect, there is also no perfect caregiver. We have our own limits at the end of the day, and so long as we do our best and let our effort be done out of love, we can make a difference no matter how small it seemingly is. Accept that there are things that will always be out of your control, and focus on those that you have the power to change.
Rest, Rest, And More Rest
Being the sole caregiver for your loved one means that everything rest in your hands, so keeping yourself in the best possible physical and emotional state is crucial to lasting the caregiving game. Get enough sleep to help your mind and body recover, and get outdoors and exercise to get the endorphins flowing. When you look and feel better, you can find that extra gear to provide care for others.
Keep Things Real
Many caregivers attempt to fulfill too much in too little time, with too little resources. This causes them to stretch themselves too thin and eventually snap. Set realistic goals for yourself and your ward, breaking large tasks into smaller steps that you can do one at a time. And learn to say no to unnecessary commitments.
Have A Support Safety Net
The demands of Alzheimer’s Disease and other dementias mean that you can’t wing this on your own. Accepting help is the best way to preventing your sense of self from being lost in duty. Come up with a list of ways close friends and family members can lend a hand, and don’t wait till you’re down and out before turning to them.