Preparing for the physical and emotional challenges of being a caregiver
By: Dr. Nestor H. Praderio
Who prepares us to be a caregiver? Where do we learn how to care for others? Likewise, we can contemplate who prepares us to be parents? Who is a caregiver? Usually, it is a family member; however, it could also be someone who is not a relative. Then there are the professional and nonprofessional caregivers.
In most cases, a family caregiver is “thrown into this role.” Once you find yourself in this role, there are survival skills that one must develop. You quickly learn that there are daily risks and recognize that you are not made of steel. We are not always going to be well. We may not always be loved. Sometimes we will feel abandoned.
My interactions with patients and their family members, staff, clinicians and all others in the continuum of care inspire me. Monthly sessions at our “Time of Reflection” meeting are filled with deeply rich and insightful exchanges with attending caregivers. This small, intimate group setting allows caregivers to interact and share the experience of their individual caregiver journey.
The caregivers trust each other with their innermost thoughts and feelings. The uniqueness and commonality of their caregiving roles is most intriguing. The outcome is often classified as a “very powerful experience.” The most common caregiver association is wife to husband, husband to wife, daughter or son and on rare occasions, a sibling and then non-relatives.
According to the group, a caregiver is “an angel, protector, helper, counselor, nurse, doctor, friend, banker, planner and advocate.” It is an honor to facilitate these sessions hosted by the Caregiver SOS – WellMed Foundation.
The group was asked to offer their advice on how to prepare for the unpredictable. The consensus was that you cannot. I likened diabetes to a hurricane and Alzheimer’s to a tornado. Caregivers must master the flexibility to accept unpredictability. They should not carry the burden of attempting to guess the unpredictable. Flexibility is the remedy for unpredictable behavior.
How do we respond when a crisis with our loved one is evolving? The caregivers suggested that you should first take a step back from it and realize what is really going on. Evaluate the situation – don’t react. Next, make sure that your loved one is ready and then respond in a calm manner.
The first step is to accept that our loved one has dementia. Caregiving has a funny way of dealing with the denial of your loved one having dementia. We must acknowledge who we are as we engage and commit to our role. We must assess how we feel and how we react to a variety of sensations. Then there are the practical considerations such as finances, support (emotional, physical, spiritual), environmental constraints, transportation and more.
As a caregiver, you also master “self-treatment”/self-care and appraise what stays with you at the end of the day. You begin to consider what you can do next, and you track your loved one’s progress or lack thereof and in the abilities that your loved one still has.
Sometimes you may feel like you become the person with dementia. In order to care for your loved one, you become him/her. It is a case of self-integration to the task such as what a teacher may do. This is not abnormal, but it may elicit uncomfortable feelings. You must separate from it – such as through exercise.
The caregiver in you can only relax at the end of the day when you have assured yourself that your loved one is resting comfortably. Usually, you have been on guard throughout the day due to fear and apprehension of the unknown. Your loved one calls out to you, and you don’t know what they are going to say, need or do. Imagine the amount of energy involved in how and what to try to prepare for what is going to happen next.
It is a daunting process. There will be errors; there will be mistakes. Then you give gratitude that the day is over, and you can say, “I did it!” From there, you begin to find a balance and may allow yourself to relax. Create a compartment of space that you reserve for yourself and return to who you are at the end of the day.
For effective self-treatment, we must accept our role and discover the full package of feelings and acknowledge them. There is no magic pill or drink. Develop your own interventions for self-treatment. At the end of the day, enjoy being with your loved one, give thanks to God that the day is over and get ready for tomorrow.
We invite you to join us in our upcoming Face to Face Family and Friends Caregiver Festival on July 28 at the American Bank Center Henry Garrett Ballroom from 8 a.m. to noon. This free event offers an education and training session for family caregivers to learn more about their roles in providing care for loved ones with dementia.
At the conclusion of the educational sessions, we will host a luncheon and a dance festival from noon to 2:30 p.m. in celebration of caregiving and Alzheimer’s awareness.
For more information, call 361-238-7777. Sponsorship and exhibitor opportunities are available. For more information, call 361-238-7777, visit www.texasfacetoface.com or follow us at www.facebook.com/texasfacetoface.