Even just a few minutes can make a difference and help you recharge. Try yoga before breakfast, slip out for a 10-minute walk, and keep up with your favorite hobby. This lowers your stress, which may help you be a better caregiver.
List all the tasks you need to do in a week, including dressing and bathing a loved one, rides, cooking, and household chores. Consider which ones someone else might be able to do. Remember to say no when you need to, and set boundaries so you can stay ready to help.
Your daily habits can make your life simpler. A routine can help you feel in control and can let your loved one know what to expect. Consistency is especially important for people with dementia, because it provides a sense of security.
Even a few hours "off duty" can help you recharge. Think of family, friends, or neighbors to call when you need a break. Insurance may pay for a home health aide. Adult day-care centers can give you a breather while your loved one enjoys some social activity. Your local Area Agency on Aging can tell you where to find help. And hospice programs can help terminally ill people and their families.
Relaxation exercises, such as deep breathing, may help you at bedtime. If your loved one sleeps during the day but is awake much of the night, try to take naps. You may need to hire an aide or ask a friend or relative to stay with your loved one overnight so you can get a good night's rest.
No one understands your situation better than another caregiver. You may want to look for support groups related to your loved one's illness. Your local Area Agency on Aging may keep a list. Or consider joining an online community, where you can connect with others, ask questions, vent when you need to, and share ideas.
Technology can be a caregiver's best friend. Buy pillboxes that sound an alarm when it's time for the next dose, or try a smartphone app or an online medicine reminder. They can send an automated text or phone call to you or your loved one when it's time for their medication. Pill organizers are a low-tech way for you to portion pills in little drawers by day, meal, or hour.
Consider an electronic "help" button for when you can't be there. It's called a personal emergency response system (PERS), and your loved one wears it like a pin or a necklace. Most connect to the phone system. Some work like a walkie-talkie, so the wearer can talk to an emergency operator at any time. Some will notify a family member or call 911, depending on your preference. You'll pay a monthly fee for the service.
To chat with your loved one or keep tabs when you can't be there, you could set up a webcam -- a video camera connected to the Internet. Video chat apps can also help involve faraway family members in care decisions. If your loved one might wander away, you can install sensors that alert you when someone opens a door.
Could you bring a well-trained cat or dog in for a visit? Spending time with an animal can be very soothing to people who aren't well or who can't get out the way they used to. Pets can lower blood pressure, cut stress -- even make elderly people more alert. And seeing a loved one perk up can make you, the caregiver, happier, too.
Music and art can spark fun shared moments for you and the person you're caring for. Familiar melodies can bring back memories and may lead to clapping or dancing. Keep art projects simple and safe but not too childlike. Painting or making a collage from magazines are two good options. Listening to music or working on an art project can be a great stress reliever for you, too.
If your loved one has dementia, watch for “sundowning,” in which people become confused or agitated in the evening. Plan activities early in the day, and serve an early dinner. Turn the lights up in the evening. Check with a doctor about any physical or sleep problems that may be part of the sundowning effect.
Hold regular family meetings to discuss how your loved one is doing, caregiving needs, financial concerns, and your need for support. These meetings should include everyone who might be involved in caring for your loved one, including paid caregivers. Connect distant family members through a speakerphone or online video chat. Follow up with a written agreement and a calendar of tasks.
Thanks to the Family and Medical Leave Act, larger companies must offer up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave for employees with a parent, spouse, or child who is seriously ill. If you can't take leave, look into whether you can work flexible hours. Be clear about how you will get your work done. Employee assistance programs can help you find care for your loved one while you work.
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