If you’re on pins and needles because of worry, stop it! You will always question yourself. Caregivers will forever panic about whether the job they’re doing is adequate. Learn from your mistakes; this is not a science. All patients vary from one to another.
Taking care of a memory-impaired person is exhausting and emotionally draining. You’ll know when you’re about to hit the wall. Don’t argue with yourself. Instead find a way to take a break or everything will start to overwhelm you. When you get a chance to get away, go, but try not to spend too much time alone. When I had time to escape, one of my main goals was to refrain from repeating myself 30 times a night. I looked for normal conversation, in which I was not required to answer the same question more then twice.
Caregivers will experience a dwindling effect on their social life. Because of my own school of hard knocks, I can tell you that my telephone practically stopped ringing. I was at the point where I was about to call “Ma Bell” to find out if I was having technical difficulties.
Be advised that friends from the past will eventually stop calling after their invitations to attend gatherings or evenings at the movies have been declined time and time again. Even well-meaning people can be put off by the mere fact that you cannot leave your loved one alone. Recently, a woman said to me, “Nobody realizes that sometimes it’s like babysitting a 16-armed octopus. You can’t leave them alone for a single minute.”
The general population has never experienced the 24/7 hardships of caregiving so naturally they have no conception of the amount of sacrifices that must be made.
While taking care of your loved one you simply keep telling yourself that your old friends are just on hold. Now that some time has transpired after my father and mother’s passing of dementia related diseases: I have discovered that only the most sincere and faithful friendships survived.
But, on the other hand, you may find an upside regarding the subject of human relationships and that is the befriending of new acquaintances who are fellow caregivers, people who are walking the same path as you. The support and passion of these strong individuals may be more valuable and emboldening then the companions you knew from your past.
Social isolation is a high-risk factor for developing depression. This is just one of the reasons for you to remain somewhat socially active. Whether it’s through internet chat rooms or staying in touch with friends on social media, phone calls, video chats or even the old fashion U.S. Mail, it is vital to have some form of communication with the outside world. I highly recommend trying a support group in your area.
When caring for my father, there would be times when I would suddenly realize that I hadn’t left the property in a three-week period. A trip to the barber shop not only becomes a blessing but a major social event!
Learn to cherish the ones that lend you an ear, even if it’s only for a couple of minutes. Keep an open mind to the unforeseen new friendships you may encounter. There is something special about socializing with a colleague that is in the same boat as you. Try not to worry about the friends that have slowly slipped away. This demanding journey of caregiving may guide your life into a totally different direction. The endurance and strength required is tremendous. You have to reach deep inside yourself and pull that endurance out. It’s in there, believe me.
Gary Joseph LeBlanc, CDCS
Director of Dementia Education
Dementia Spotlight Foundation