Spring Cleaning: Refreshing Our Caregiving Routines

It's a human tendency to get stuck in a rut as we carry out life's demands, and caregiving is no exception. With spring nearly upon us, it's a good time to take a fresh look at our caregiving lives to see if there are areas that need improvement or at least a fresh approach.

Making pro/con lists of what is working and what is not working is an effective method of examining anything from budgets to weight loss. It can be just as effective for caregiving. Below I've provided a template for a hypothetical caregiver we'll call Ann. If you're up for a little self-reflection, Ann's list could help you jumpstart your own self-improvement project.

Ann first writes about what's working in her caregiving life:

  • I found a wonderful assisted living facility for Mom near my home which has allowed me to enjoy more time with other family members and my friends.
  • It took awhile, but Mom adjusted to her new life and now enjoys her own friends and the activities the facility provides.
  • Mom also feels very safe, which is important to her and to me. Knowing she has people around her allows me to relax at work and not worry so much.
  • I've got a good system for shopping for Mom's needs that integrates with my other errands. This has saved me a lot of time.

Ann writes about what isn't working in her caregiving life:

  • I keep correcting Mom when we are talking. I'm told that, because of her Alzheimer's, arguing is counterproductive and I should agree with her statements no matter how outlandish they seem. Of course, there are exceptions, but those times are rare.
  • I'm angry with my brother because he won't travel to see Mom. She often doesn't recognize him and forgets he's even been there, but I feel my brother should visit anyway.
  • I've been so happy that Mom is content that I haven't followed the advice of her doctor and the social workers. They say I should use this time to learn about the stages of Alzheimer's, since it's a progressive disease, and that I should research possible changes in her care needs.
  • I keep putting off making an appointment for my physical, mammogram and other routine medical tests because Mom has so many of her own medical appointments. Those take time, and I get tired of sitting in clinics. I think mine can wait.

Readers, you have likely worked hard to get to this place in your life and you deserve credit for all that you've done. First, give yourself credit for everything you've done right.

The next step is to tackle the "not working" list to see what, if anything, you can change that will make your life better. Using Ann's lists above, I created some suggestions that could help fix these hypothetical situations for her and others. Maybe these suggestions will help you jump start your own spring cleaning list.

Using Ann's lists, we'll help her refresh her approach to caregiving:

Refresh #1: I keep correcting Mom when we're talking.

Admittedly, it's hard to listen to people you once admired for their wisdom make bizarre statements, so your reflex reaction is to correct them. Also, you may feel that "lying" to your parent or spouse is wrong. You may even feel that agreeing with them when they are wrong is condescending.

It's important for you to change your thought process. Accept the wisdom of those who've studied the disease. They will tell you that when you validate your loved one, you are showing compassion. Conversely, arguing only increases the person's agitation and decreases their self-esteem. Your loved one with Alzheimer's disease is living in a reality that is different from yours, but just as real to him or her. You are the well person, so it's up to you to try to share your loved one's reality. When you adapt to this way of thinking, life will be easier for both of you. (Read: 10 Tips for Talking to Someone With Alzheimer's)

Refresh #2: I'm angry with my brother.

As unfair as it seems, there are many reasons why siblings don't help with caregiving. Try to understand why your brother doesn't feel his visits are meaningful. He travels several hundred miles to visit his mom who doesn't remember who he is and will forget his visit as soon as he walks out the door.

Suggest that your brother visit whenever he can for his own sake. Let him know that you understand that it's hard for him and it may seem like a waste of time. Thank him for the help and support he does contribute, but offer him the perspective that he'll probably feel better emotionally after Mom is gone if he visits occasionally, no matter how painful it is.

Refresh #3: I haven't taken time to learn about the stages of Alzheimer's.

You deserve to take time to enjoy the fact that your mom's move has been successful and that you now have help and more choices in caregiving and other areas of your life. However, caregiving needs can change quickly. It would be wise to give yourself a deadline to begin researching the next step in her care. Talk with the assisted living administrator to learn what their care limits are, and ask about price increases as your mom needs more care. Also, check nursing home options in your community in case a move to a nursing home should become a necessity. I'd suggest that you go online to your state website and type "aging" in the search box. By doing so, you'll be led to many resources that your state provides. This process will help you develop a plan for your mom's future care.

Refresh #4: I keep putting off my own medical appointments.

Take care of yourself. Your mom has professionals looking after her most of the time. Yes, you take her to medical appointments, but you still need to make time for your own. As I mentioned above, care needs can change quickly. Use this time to get caught up on your own care, both physical and mental. If you do this, you'll feel more prepared for changes in your mom's care needs.

Now, it's time to write out your own lists. Delete the suggestions above that don't apply to you and then add your own take on things. Maybe you'll only have one or two areas that could use improvement. Maybe you won't have any. It's still a good exercise to think about your routine from time to time in case you can upgrade your own quality of life and maybe even that of your care receiver. There's not better time to do this than spring.

Carol Bradley Bursack

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Over the span of two decades, author, columnist, consultant and speaker Carol Bradley Bursack cared for a neighbor and six elderly family members. Her experiences inspired her to pen, "Minding Our Elders: Caregivers Share Their Personal Stories," a portable support group book for caregivers.

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