Let’s call her Jane.
Jane isn’t herself these days. She looks tired and worn – unusual for this vibrant 40-year-old. She’s no longer paying attention to what she wears, how she does her hair and makeup. Her work colleagues talk behind her back about her excess absences and recent poor performance. She’s stressed-out and irritable. The headaches are killing her. She’s no longer exercising. Her meals most often consist of grabbing a quick bite on the run. Her friends are worried – they see and hear from her with less and less frequency. She’s cancelled her last three appointments with various doctors and a dentist. She doesn’t remember the last time she sat down to read a good book or saw a movie. Sleep is illusive. And when she does finally pass out, she soon wakes up in a cold sweat to write down all of things she’s forgotten to do.
What’s wrong with Jane? Nothing. Except, she’s taking care of her 75-year-old widowed mother who has Alzheimer’s. Trying to balance her busy personal and professional life with the incredibly difficult physical and emotional demands of caregiving isn’t easy: seemingly endless doctors’ appointments; episodes of mom wandering; calls from neighbors in the middle of the work day that her mother has let the tub run and caused a flood in the apartment; cooking, cleaning and shopping for two; managing mom’s finances; and on and on. It’ a very long list and Jane is trying to do it alone.
The reality is, like Jane, you cannot provide good care for others if you don’t, first, take care of yourself. The lifestyle choices that many caregivers feel they are forced to make – often made with the best intentions in mind – can lead to serious consequences.
Research as reported on the National Caregivers Alliance website is startling. Here’s a small sampling:
- It’s estimated that up to 70% of caregivers have significant symptoms of depression.
- More than 20 percent of female caregivers get mammograms less frequently.
- Increased stress can lead to greater alcohol or drug use.
- Caregivers report heart attacks, cancer, arthritis, head and body aches and other ailments more often than non-caregivers.
It’s imperative that caregivers recognize that focusing on themselves is equally important to the care they provide for the person with dementia. This requires self-discipline, and maybe even a little self-love. It also requires help.
If you are a caregiver, please hold this mirror up to yourself and see if what’s happening to Jane is happening to you. Take a good hard look at how and what you are doing and be honest about how caregiving is impacting your life. It’s OK if you feel like throwing your hands up in the air, and shouting, “I just can’t do this anymore.” The best thing you can do is call someone for help, like CaringKind’s 24-hour Helpline (1-646-744-2900).
CaringKind recognizes that every family’s story is unique. Our mantra is if you’ve seen one case of Alzheimer’s, you’ve seen one case of Alzheimer’s. And, we mean it. Our social workers’ goals are to develop a personalized plans for you and the person you are caring for. When you go for help, you’ll also meet others who have walked in your shoes and know exactly what you’re going through.
So, please, make 2018 the year that you are generous to yourself. Don’t be afraid to take a time out. Call a neighbor, a friend, a family members and tell them you need a hand. Go to the park for a walk. Make sure you get to that doctor’s appointment. Schedule yourself for a manicure. Go to the gym and work out. Once you’ve made a call for help, you’ll see that all this, and more, is possible.