After she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, I became my mom’s caregiver. From my own experience, I know that providing a support system for a caregiver can help them to feel recognized and create space for them to care for themselves, too.
Alzheimer’s disease is not an overnight thing. I first noticed a change in my mom’s behavior when she started forgetting about the simplest things, like what she had for dinner the night before or how much money she spent at the store. I thought this was a normal part of getting older, but then it slowly got worse, so I asked her to consult a doctor.
The doctor did some tests and confirmed that mom had experienced the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease. I was sad, and my mom felt scared and worried. I realized that I would be the one to take care of her. She was hesitant since I also had other responsibilities, but I was determined.
Caring for her was very difficult and challenging. It was a slow and painful process. The person I once knew slowly faded away into someone I’d never met. My mom had been a nurse for over forty years, but in the end, she was my patient. This was a hard adjustment for both of us.
During the early stage of the disease, I worked part-time, but it became difficult after her disease progressed. Mom had shown significant changes and even started to lose basic skills such as the ability to hold a pen and write her name. She also experienced trouble making simple decisions, such as what she wanted to eat. With my husband’s support and understanding, I quit my job and focused on taking care of her full time.
I became the caregiver, the cook, and the nurse. I was exhausted. It became so overwhelming that I had no time to be alone with my thoughts or feelings without worrying about what was going on with her. These are some of the ways that my family kept me going and made me feel that I did the right thing by taking care of her:
1. Give the gift of time: Making time for your loved one to relax or do something they enjoy shows that you care.
During my four years of caring for my mom with Alzheimer’s, I spent most of my time inside the home. Thankfully my two brothers and my husband were there for me. They would step in to take care of my mom, giving me that time to relax. They were able to see how I was feeling and when I needed a break, and would help pick my spirits back up.
2. Ask what they need: Give them choices of how you might help.
My husband and my brothers asked me how I was feeling and what I needed. Whether it was getting me something to eat, running an errand, or anything else, they took care of it.
3. Treat the caregiver to an activity: Taking someone on an outing makes them feel special. It doesn’t have to be expensive – you might take them for a walk or cook them a meal.
My family would pay attention to when I was tired or needed to unwind. They would take me to the movies, for a meal at a restaurant, and to places they knew I had always wanted to go. It made me feel good that they spent their time trying to share with me all the love they felt from me taking care of Mom.
4. Listen to their story: Caregivers experience stress that can include financial issues, relational problems, and personal issues. When you listen to what they have to say without judgment, it allows the caregiver an opportunity to release some of the emotions they’re feeling and let them go, and it tells them that you care.
The most important thing to remember is that caregivers are human, just like you and your loved one. So, when you listen to their story, don’t make them feel they are not allowed to have feelings or that they should be tougher. Encourage them to let the emotions out.
5. Vocalize your appreciation: Say out loud your appreciation for what a caregiver does for you or your loved one.
In my case, it’s my mom who expressed to me how much she appreciated all that I did for her. She would say, “I love you so much. Thank you for being there for me; I wouldn’t have made it this far without you.” Later, I could see it in her eyes and the way she would just look at me calmly with approval and love. This made me feel as if I was doing everything perfectly. It gave me the strength to keep going. The unconditional love she showed me until her last moment was amazing and something I will never forget for the rest of my life.
If someone in your life is a caregiver or being cared for, I would encourage you try some of these ways to show your appreciation.
Andrea Gibbs is an avid personal development enthusiast and an expert in the field of health and fitness. She also serves as a blog contributor at Serenity Senior Care. One of the things Andrea Gibbs has used to talk about what matters is the Conversation Starter Guide.
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