Taking Care of the Elderly and Taking Care of Yourself

Taking care of the elderly is becoming a reality for more and more people. Often frustration is an integral part of that task, especially if the elderly person is afflicted with Alzheimer\’s disease or dementia. The question is, how do you deal with a certain amount of inevitable frustration and maintain your equilibrium while giving your loved one the care he or she needs?

The key is to understand that you cannot change the person you are caring for—you can only change the way you respond to that person. It\’s a matter of control. A person with dementia may wander out of the house, or behave erratically, or continually repeat the same questions. These behaviors can be quite irritating to you as a caregiver if you let them. You probably can do very little to control such behavior. But you can control your own.

When you feel yourself losing patience, or you get physical symptoms like chest pains or a knot in your stomach, it\’s time to take note and seek calm. Deep breathing is a wonderful way to take a short time-out while remaining in the presence of your elderly charge. If you can, you may want to take a short walk or just move to a different room where you can be alone to collect your thoughts. Try meditating, praying, conjuring up peaceful images or listening to soothing music. Find out what works best for you so you can be prepared to play Bach on your MP3 player if that\’s what will help.

Give Yourself a Break

Care giving is not easy, especially when the elderly person is difficult, whether it\’s due to dementia or just plain crabbiness in old age. The cause doesn\’t really matter when you\’re feeling frazzled. What does matter is how you maintain your well-being. Start by knowing that standing up for yourself doesn\’t have to be—and shouldn\’t be—in conflict with the best interests of the person for whom you are caring.

You have to maintain your health and sanity in order to give good care. So how do you do it?

Take a time out. If friends and family have said, “How can I help?” don\’t be shy about taking them up on their offers. You need a break from care giving. Even if you have to hire someone, do it to the extent your budget allows. It is critical for you to get away every once and awhile so when you return to your loved one, you are fully engaged and feeling energized enough to interact with strength and compassion.

Take Care of Yourself

Eat a good breakfast. Get a good night\’s sleep. Keep up your exercise program. It\’s hard to take time for yourself when you have the extra duties of caring for someone else. But recall the last time you were on an airplane, and were instructed how to behave in an emergency. Put your own oxygen mask on first and THEN place the oxygen mask on your dependent person. Make sure you are stable and in good physical and mental condition. You cannot hope to help someone else until you first take care of yourself.

Find the help you need. You may find a professional counselor can help you through difficult times with your elderly loved one. Or perhaps a support group or clergy can help you reach an understanding about how to cope with equanimity.

Nancy Travers is an Orange County Counseling professional.  If you need safe, effective counseling services, please get in touch.  You can reach her here: http://www.nancyscounselingcorner.com/contact-us.

 

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