“If one more person tells me that I need to make time for myself, I will puke!”

“As a caregiver, it is so important that you take care of yourself.” That is a very true statement, and one which we utter frequently to those folks who are dedicated to caring for loved ones with dementia. Recently when I said this, a caregiver responded with “If one more person tells me that I need to make time for myself, I will puke!” Several other caregivers nodded their heads in agreement. SO, will I stop saying it?

No, but I need to rethink how it can be done, as I know caregivers are busy 24/7 – thinking, doing and planning not only for their own lives but also for the well-being of their loved ones. So, instead of my saying, “Take care of yourself too,” I need to make suggestions about how to do so in days that already do not have enough hours for all that has to be done. I know that a weekend away or perhaps a night out once or twice a week is not going to happen. What are some small self-caring activities that just might fit into their busy schedules?

Maybe a 15 minute cup of tea in the back yard, feet up and enjoying the sounds of the season. Or after you have put your spouse to bed for the night, a soak in a hot bath tub.  Maybe a phone call to a sibling or friend you miss and have not had time to call; someone whom you enjoy and has always brought laughter into your day? We all need pedicures and a foot massage. One that is based on reflexology can be as relaxing as a full massage.  If the person you care for attends an Adult Day Program even just one day a week, use at least some of the time they are gone for yourself.  While the laundry is in, meet a friend for coffee. After you clean the kitchen, treat yourself to a walk to a neighborhood ice cream store and enjoy a cone on your way home.

For those caregivers who also must work full time outside of the home, the challenge may be a bit more difficult. Can you make your lunch and eat it outside during the nice weather, maybe in a nearby park? Or walk to a deli and eat at a place halfway back to the office. Can you take a brisk walk for you break with some relaxing music on your i-pod?  Could you ask a relative or friend to sit with your spouse for two hours while you take in a movie once in awhile? Suggest a DVD that you think your parent would enjoy while you are gone.

Given: Care giving is definitely more than a fulltime job in and of itself. Its demands are physical as well as emotional. Also a given: you will not be able to do it as lovingly, patiently, attentively as you hope to, if you are burning the candle that is you, at both ends.

So, taking time, however small, however ordinary, is important. Every care giver needs to find what that will look like for them and then try to insert some self care giving into their daily lives.

Check out www.alz.org for more info about how to manage caregiving-related stress, or visit our chapter support group calendar to find a support group near you!

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