In 1995, an incident in our neighborhood helped me understand the kind of stress that family caregivers of aging loved ones face each day. My husband Paul and I noticed a ruckus at the house down the street and discovered that the elderly man who lived there had died. The man and his wife, who was blind, were being cared for by an adult daughter in her late 40s or early 50s -- the age at which many family caregivers are looking after their parents.
The family had no other relatives so I offered to spend the night. The daughter had been holed up in the house as the only caregiver to her parents. Both she and her mother were so distraught. The adult daughter was unkempt and exhausted from her role as caregiver to her parents. She kept coming out of her bedroom to talk with me, and asked over and over: "What am I going to do?"
Since then, I've had the honor of hearing the highs and lows of many caregivers' personal stories through my work with Home Instead Senior Care®, the organization Paul and I started to provide seniors at-home care and companionship.
I wrote "Strength for the Moment" to share these compelling stories in a devotional guide that families can use to find strength in those moments when the burdens of caregiving seem overwhelming. The book is a collection of 52 real-life caregiving stories that touch on all aspects of caregiving. What I've gleaned from these stories and my work as a mentor to hundreds of family and professional caregivers is the importance of caregivers caring for themselves as they care for others. Here are 10 tips that can help.
- Ask for help: Caregiving can be very demanding of an individual's time and energy. Don't suffer in silence. Ask for assistance and share your story with others at StrengthfortheMoment.com.
- Be patient: I once asked Paul's grandmother what she thought was one of the most valuable pieces of advice she could give me for my family. "Patience" is all she said. That advice still helps me through every situation.
- Treat yourself: Schedule a foot massage, manicure, nice dinner out or a concert to take yourself away from the situation and to reward yourself for the wonderful care you are providing to your aging relative. You shouldn't feel guilty about wanting to feel good.
- Take a break: So many of the caregivers in the book tried to go it alone, which is impossible in a demanding caregiving situation. Take single days or even a week's vacation. And when you're away, stay away.
- Keep moving: Even if you don't like exercise and your time is limited, keep moving. Simply taking a brief walk or parking the car as far away as possible from the store door can help.
- Don't avoid the doctor: You can become so busy with your loved one's health and well-being that you neglect your own. A healthy you is worth more to your aging loved one than a sick, weak you.
- Avoid junk food: Junk food, sugar and caffeine are so tempting under stress. Instead eat plenty of fresh fruits, vegetables, proteins, including nuts and beans, and whole grains.
- Maintain a sense of humor: Sometimes humor is all you have, especially when dealing with a disease such as Alzheimer's. One family caregiver recalls his dad eyeing his favorite candy bar at the store. "When asked if he'd like one, Dad declined, but then could be seen slipping the treat into his pocket," the son said. "I felt like a parent who could barely contain laughter as their child misbehaves in the most hilarious way." When all else fails, laugh!
- Pray: In a recent survey of family caregivers conducted for the Home Instead Senior Care network, prayer was found to be one of the top coping mechanisms for those caregivers who repress their feelings. These caregivers know the value of prayer and meditation when life becomes overwhelming. Share your prayer requests with others at Strength for the Moment on Facebook.
- Look to God: These caregiving stories reinforced my belief that strong faith and a positive attitude can guide us through even the most difficult situations. When facing difficulty, we can rely on our faith to remind us that we are not alone and that God is in control.
Many baby boomers, often unexpectedly and for long periods, will likely be called to provide care for a loved one, and it is my hope that anyone could gain strength, encouragement and inspiration through the real-life caregiving stories on which this book is based.
Lori Hogan is the author of Strength for the Moment (2012), co-author of The Stages of Senior Care (2009), and co-founder, with husband Paul, of the Home Instead Senior Care® network, the world's largest provider of non-medical in-home care services for seniors, with more than 950 independently owned and operated franchises in 17 countries. A former Miss Nebraska USA, she is the mother of four and a mentor to hundreds of family and professional caregivers.