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Dear Caregiver- Are you taking care of Yourself?

Dear Caregiver- Are you taking care of Yourself?

I looked after my mum who had dementia for 10 years and spent the last 4 years looking after her as she was bedridden after a mild stroke. She was 80 when she had the stroke and needed full time care. I had her staying next door to me and had two maids looking after her needs and I was the primary caregiver. She had a special hospital bed and all the mobility aids to ensure she was comfortable. To make sure she was engaged mentally I installed a TV, had a radio cassette playing her favourite songs, had pictures of her children and grandchildren laminated and pasted on the walls and taught the helpers to cook her favourite meals. I also made sure there was a timetable set up where her friends and families could come and visit so that she was not lonely. As I was working, I spent time with her watching Tamil TV shows when I came back from work. She had special nurses who came in to check on her condition, teach my helpers in moving her around safely and do the basic medical tests. It was a tiring, responsible and stressful time for me as the primary caregiver but I had no regrets as I knew she was well looked after in having her physical, mental, and spiritual needs cared for. A relative who visited us had asked me - “So … how are you holding up?” I paused. I said I was fine and boasted about my planning skills. She responded, “We often take care of others and forget to check in with ourselves, “I hope you’re taking care of yourself too.” That gave me food for thought.

My mother passed away peacefully in 2013 after battling with dementia for about 10 years.

Caregivers- an important component especially in the lives of the elderly. Usually, it either the spouse or child or a relative or a helper who are the primary caregivers, but their roles are the same – stressful and can lead to a burn-out if left unchecked. Caregiver burnout can happen in many situations like for example if you are looking after a grandchild, or a child with a disability requiring constant care or if you’re the adult child and primary caregiver of an elderly parent whose health is failing. Whatever the circumstances, taking care of a family member without taking care of yourself can harm your overall health.

If you’re someone who is currently taking care of your parents or family during their ailments, here’s what you should do and be aware of.

There are no silver linings. 
Beware of toxic positivity- Well - what is it really? If you have the mindset and belief that despite experiencing emotional pain, one must stay positive. Do you feel at time you have to put on a positive face when dealing with difficult situations? While it’s natural to try and find things that keep us motivated during a crisis, it doesn’t always have to “look positive.” It`s acknowledging your real feelings that will eventually make you feel better.

It’s okay to ask for help and hang on to those who make you feel supported. 
Asking for help may make you feel but its ok to do so. To make decisions one must get more information- and that meant asking for help. Speaking to relatives and friends on financial matters and others and trying to get the paperwork done can be exhausting. As you give yourself the time and space you need, do stay in contact with those who make you feel safe, visible, and accepted — regardless of what you choose to discuss. This could be a friend, a colleague, a relative, or even a parent. People are willing to help with advice, sending food, getting the medicines organised and so accept the help graciously.

Take a break from work if you can for the initial period.
This is a great help in the initial days when you must plan and make decisions and weigh in to see how your work life is going to be affected.

Share the chores at home, if possible. 
Share the chores with family and hired help- this helps a lot on you physically and emotionally. People appreciate when you ask for help instead of trying to second guess what you need or want. Take note that everyone is tired, and no one is at their best. Even if your family is normally amiable, there will likely be more misunderstandings, arguments, and words misfired than usual. What really helps is when you share the responsibilities and get rest where possible. Remember you are not Superman!!!

Keep working as it is a coping mechanism - but you need to set healthy boundaries.  
Juggling your work and the added responsibilities as a primary caregiver must be handled in a manner that you are not overwhelmed at any time. The time spent at work will take your mind off the day-to-day caregiving activities and you will find you are able to find your rhythm as you juggle your responsibilities once back at home.

Relax and Recharge
Choose how you want to relax and recharge every now and then – some examples could be watching your favourite TV programs, reading books, going out with friends, soaking in the bath, exercising, or meditating. Make this a weekly affair so that you don`t only relax when you are overwhelmed. You need to re-energize when things are going well, too.

Setting boundaries
There’s an epidemic of “can’t say no” floating around when you are faced with requests. You need to set boundaries and learn how to say ‘No’ to unreasonable requests from siblings or paid caregivers, or to bow out of community obligations that are just too much on top of caregiving demands. Boundaries are the flip side of asking for help and so if you can do both… if you can learn to say, “No” and “I need your help,” you might just survive this experience. That`s the only way you can take care of yourself as a primary caregiver.

The world may seem like it’s falling apart, but you are doing great.
In moments of crisis - everybody has different coping mechanisms — and that’s okay. It’s important to make sure that you’re processing things in a way that serves your physical and mental health. If you must seek a professional`s help its ok too. So, if you’re struggling to prioritize yourself, consider this article a gentle reminder to check in with the most important person in your life — YOU. The world may seem like it’s falling apart, but you are doing great. You are doing the best you can.

The End


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