Living in a world of isolation can be a very harmful place in which to dwell. Unfortunately, when dealing with the daily challenges involved in the constant care of a loved one, dissociation almost always becomes a side effect for caregivers. More often than not, they suddenly find themselves living an unseasoned lifestyle, one that is so different their past may seem as if it was two lifetimes ago.
While in the midst of the pressing responsibilities of caregiving, it is hard to remember that this will one day come to an end. But it will. And when it does, as sad as that end is going to be, the reality is that the caregiver will once again be thrust back into an existence that is now unfamiliar. O.K., now what?
Well, first of all, let’s talk about how to prevent this from occurring in the first place. I’ve always stressed how valuable a couple of hours a week spent on just you, the caregiver, can be. I know this is easier said than done. When I cared for my dad, there were times when I would suddenly realize that I hadn’t left the property in a three-week period. It’s strange to look back and wonder how time could’ve passed without my knowing it. That is how all-consuming the role of caregiving can be. It takes over everything in your life.
If you’ve already made it all the way through your journey and you know of another caregiver going through what I have just spoken of, reach out to them and offer some assistance. There’s no question that they’re driving full speed toward that dreaded burnout stage.
Caregivers usually experience a succinct decline in what was at one time an active social life. I can tell you from my own experience that, after only a short period of time being Dad’s caregiver, my phone almost stopped ringing all together.
With regard to people who never experienced the 24/7 hardships of caregiving? They truly have no concept of the amount of sacrifices that are compulsory.
While taking care of our loved ones, we simply open-heartedly keep telling ourselves that all of our old friends are just “on hold.” Surely, when this season of life comes to an end, everything will get back to normal, right? Well, I’m here to tell you that this is most likely not going to be the case. But you know what? That’s o.k. It’s now been over half a decade since my father’s passing and I’ve discovered that only the most sincere and faithful friendships have survived. I have learned to cherish those friends that are willing to lend an ear. As human beings it’s part of our nature to need human contact. Keep an open mind to any unexpected new friendships that may develop as well. Myself, I find something special about socializing with someone who has experienced the same difficulties as I have.
Try not to worry about the friends from the past that have slipped away. The demanding journey that you just endured may now guide your life into a totally different direction. Watch and see. More often than not this will be a good thing.
Gary Joseph LeBlanc, CDCS
Director of Dementia Education
Dementia Spotlight Foundation