One of the hardest things I had to do as a caregiver was finding time to take care of myself. I took Jim to so many doctor visits that I just couldn’t face any additional ones. Then, later, caregiving consumed most of my free time. The bad thing about this scenario is that eventually neglecting my own health caught up with me.
It is easy to tell a caregiver, “You have to take care of yourself,” but it is hard to put those good words into action. Knowing what we should do doesn’t always mean that we will do it. Personal health doesn’t always make it to the top of the caregiver priority list.
I recently downloaded a copy of the 2022 Alzheimer’s Disease Facts and Figures and came across a section on caregiver health. So many of the statistics reminded me of how mentally and physically exhausting caregiving can be. The stress of caregiving increases the chances of health complications. Seventy-five percent of caregivers reported they were concerned that they were not adequately maintaining their own health.
According to the report, caregivers of a person with dementia lose between 2.4 hours and 3.5 hours of sleep a week. Well, I think I lost more than that much sleep each night! Jim didn’t seem to need more than four hours a sleep, and that meant that I didn’t get much more sleep than he did. He wandered around the house and sometimes out the door. After having to drive the road at night to find him, I put an alarm on the door so that he couldn’t go outside without me knowing it.
Stress and burnout are the nemesis of a caregiver. It is important to have some time away from the responsibilities of caregiving, or respite. I was working when I cared for Jim and I really needed that time away, although leaving him in someone else’s care was a different kind of stress. Fortunately, I worked close to home and could make the trip in less than twenty minutes.
Caregiving is a challenge, but family and friends can be lifesavers. We were blessed that Jim and I both came from large families who were there for both of us. Jim enjoyed being around someone besides me, and when I was stressed and tired, I can understand why. Our sons and daughters-in-law were frontline warriors that were only a phone call away.
A difficult situation for a caregiver is knowing when to say “when.” With family help and professional caregivers, I kept Jim at home as long as I could. Relinquishing most of Jim’s care to others was heart wrenching. When I placed Jim in a nursing home, I was still a hands-on caregiver because no matter how much dementia changed him, he was still Jim. For my own peace of mind, I needed the assurance that he received the best care possible.
Being a caregiver can be fulfilling when it is a labor of love. When you know that you are doing your best to keep your loved one safe, happy, and comfortable, you will sleep better at night—even if it is for four hours.
Copyright © March 2022 by L.S. Fisher