Monday, February 28, 2011

Change of Scenery

Life can become so routine that a simple change of scenery can help us gain a new perspective. The change doesn’t have to be drastic; it can be subtle.

I usually work on my netbook in the living room. I have a desk that sits near the patio doors and it is an inspiring place to sit in the summertime. Or, I might use my lap desk and work from the comfort of my couch. This weekend, I decided to work in the kitchen, which has a view of the house next door (people watching), the road (car/tractor watching), a field (cow watching), and my sister-in-law’s bird feeders (bird watching). Geeze, it sure seems like I’m doing a lot of watching, doesn’t it?

So why would you care about my change of scenery? It makes a difference only as it applies to you. If you are a caregiver, a change of scenery is probably something you crave—like a tropical isle far away from your responsibilities. Doesn’t that sound good? Although it may sound like paradise, it most likely seems impossible.

Maybe a complete getaway isn’t on your possibility radar, whether it’s because of your responsibilities or an economic issue. What you can do is something a little simpler to provide a change of scenery. As a caregiver, you need respite. You need time to regroup and refresh so that you can continue to be a good caregiver.

Sometimes, just an afternoon getaway with friends and family, or to just have some alone time can give you a new perspective. A fresh view can revitalized your thinking and make you a better caregiver.

I visited with a caregiver who said she wanted to watch her dad so her mother could have some time away. She had offered, even pleaded with her mom, to let her help. Her mother insisted that she hire a caregiver, but couldn’t find one she trusted.

“What can we do?” the woman asked me. “She just won’t let us help, but I think she’s about to collapse.”

“Try a different angle,” I suggested. “Tell her you want to spend some alone time with your dad. Let her know this is something that would make you happy. Does he like to ride in the car?”

"Oh, yes,” she said. “He loves to go for drives.”

“Take him for a drive and stop at a park for a picnic. It will make him happier, and will give your mom some time to do something she likes to do.”

Had I talked to the mother, I would have encouraged her to take help when it is offered. If a caregiver keeps a list handy, it is easy to find something for family and friends to do. Do you need something from the grocery store? Would your neighbor like to mow the grass? People really do want to help, but they don’t know what to do.

If you are the person offering help to a caregiver, who don’t ever accept—look around to see how you can help. Can you help with some chores? Do you know of an activity that fits the interests of the person with dementia? Did he like to fish? Maybe you could take him fishing to give the caregiver a break. Did she like to cook? Bring the ingredients and make cookies together while you shoo the caregiver away.

I was healthy and in my forties when Jim developed dementia. Our children were grown and my employer allowed me some flexibility so that I was able to keep on working. I had a lot of family support from both Jim’s family and mine. When I needed to hire professionals, I used respite funds from my local Alzheimer’s Association chapter to help offset the expense.

At times, caregiver responsibilities were overwhelming for me, and I couldn’t even imagine how someone in his or her eighties could take care of a spouse. Alzheimer’s can last for years and too often the caregiver gives out before the person with dementia. This is especially true of the selfless caregiver who never takes a break. Being on duty 24/7 can break anyone, no matter how strong.

If you are a caregiver who never takes a break or enjoys a change of scenery from time to time, ask yourself this important question, “Who will take care of my loved one if my health fails?” In this situation, caregiving is all or nothing. If you do it all, you could very easily get to the point where you can’t do any of it. You are headed for a personal mental health crisis if you become mired down with responsibility and give up the activities you love. If you are in crisis, what good are you to your loved one who depends on you?

Copyright © Feb 2011 L. S. Fisher