When I was 20 years old, my grandmother was diagnosed with a slow progressing form of dementia. She didn’t need care immediately, so we had time to research options. We read books and countless articles, we swapped knowledge over dinner, and frequently talked to our grandparents about how everything would work out given our lifestyles. And yet, when the time came to provide care for her, I could not have been more unprepared.
Although I had a job, I was a full-time student, so work was primarily for a disposable income. Since the rest of my family had full-time jobs and my grandfather didn’t drive, I received all the phone calls and texts. I suffered from more stress than I’d ever experienced before. It seemed like my phone was buzzing incessantly and it was always to help my grandmother. I had to cut back my hours at work; I didn’t have time to spend with friends; I was falling behind in my studies. To make matters worse, I had no one to talk to about it.
I felt like I was not making a difference and that mindset was like a poison, making me grow more and more resentful – of my grandmother and my family. My family only called me if they needed something for my grandmother. I wasn’t getting enough sleep and ate more fast food than I care to admit. I did not understand sacrifice.
Despite all of the time I dedicated to figuring out how my day-to-day routine would change, none of it prepared me for how my lifestyle changed. And the only reason, my livelihood improved was because I started talking about it. From that, I’ve learned a few things to pass on to new caregivers.
1.Tell Your Employer
No matter what your job is (and even if you don’t cut back on your working hours), tell your employer about the change in your life. If you do get that emergency call to help your loved one, they will be infinitely more understanding.
2.Nap When You Can
Sleep becomes a challenge, especially if your elder is suffering from dementia like mine was. Their sleep schedule changes too – some of the worst emergencies happen during the early morning hours or mid-evenings. So if you come home from work or school and someone else is taking care of your elder, then nap – you’ll be glad you did.
3.Make Time For Yourself
There’s a good chance you’re not taking enough time for yourself. Even if it’s just a 15-minute walk every day, you need the air – plus, turns out a 15-20 minute walk does wonders for your heart. My situation was a bit different since my whole family was working together. But you can always ask your in-home caregiver to stay an extra few minutes while you walk or a trusted neighbor. Don’t skimp on yourself.
I’m not the only one who didn’t eat right. It’s a crisis among caregivers! If you talk to fellow caregivers, you’ll find that – for a time – no one eats well. However, making healthy meals and continuing to cook helps you regulate your time and you’ll feel better – believe me!
5.Be Vocal And Ask For Help
This is the perhaps the most crucial for new caregivers. You need to talk about it. And I mean really talk about it – not just complain at someone. If you ask for help, you’ll get it. And you need to ask because It doesn’t matter if it’s a caregiver support group or a senior care service, we all feel selfish and guilty when about asking for help. We feel doubly guilty when we ask for help taking care of our elders, because we all know that eventually it is going to be rewarding.
Yet, one of the worst parts was reading about how rewarding being a new caregiver is and feeling like I’m the only one shouting, When is it going to be rewarding?!But I’ve since learned that the reward isn’t something you get immediately and oftentimes, you won’t even feel it while you’re the caregiver… but when my grandmother passed away, I knew I did everything I could for her. I spent quality time with her that I would never have had a chance to otherwise. And there were days where she gripped my hand or smiled that old, familiar grin that let me know she was going to be alright.
That was rewarding.