Care for the Caregiver

The well-groomed courtyard at Manor Care Nursing Home in Wheaton, Md, on a beautiful day:

This week my husband was placed in a nursing home for a temporary stay to address some health issues he had.  He has Alzheimer's and I have been a full-time caregiver for the past 2-3 years.  Even though the nursing home care was for him,  it was a blessing in disguise for me.  I had some alone time.


Bottom Line:  I didn't know how tired I was

I am embarrassed to say that it was the first time I was completely away from care giving and by myself in at least two years.  Why did it take so long to get some help.  Among other reasons, my thinking was I could do this myself without help.  That is dangerous thinking.   I was not aware that I was not doing enough for myself and everything for him.   Isn't that my responsibility as a caregiver.  No!


This is the first thing you must acknowledge about care giving (notice I said acknowledge because so many are in denial):

YOU MUST TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF

During the week he was gone I discovered myself again.  Previous to his going into the home, I was beginning to feel overly tired and worn out.  I was beginning to think I was feeling a state of exhaustion.  Well, duh.

Alone in Day #1:  Precious Sleep Restored:

The first few days he was gone, I slept.  I took naps, slept in in the morning, and went to bed early.  I took note that I was sleeping longer than I usually do when he is here.  I didn't have to worry about him waking up and hearing him go from bathroom to kitchen to whatever.  I could put him out of my subconscious and just sleep.

Daily Care of Ourselves:

The second thing I really noticed is that I wasn't distracted.  I kept expecting him to come into the room and when he didn't, it was a relief.  I had become habitually aware of his whereabouts.  In fact, I never took my mind off of that. 

But now, I didn't feel like I had to check in on anyone.  I didn't have to make tea or a snack or take a walk.  I didn't have to entertain or care for anyone.   Just myself.  What a revelation!

I did what I wanted when I wanted.   I think there is a lesson to be learned here.  

We take care of ourselves normally throughout our day without thinking about it.  It is another thing in our subconscious that we don't think about because we do it naturally.  When being a full-time caregiver, this self protection is nearly wiped out.  Caregiving takes so much of our energy.  Not good.

My Daily Disappearing Act

I didn't realize that care giving of another person meant denying myself.  I was going about things in the wrong way.  While devoting every minute to taking care of him, I thought I was a wonderful person and wonderful caregiver.  But you can give a lot of care or you can give quality care.  It is like when moms work.  They are told that it isn't the quantity of time you have with your kids, it is the quality.

 So you can be absent from care giving during the day. An example, of something you can do is to hire someone to take over the role for part of the day.  Either home care or adult daycare or full-time in a facility.  You must have a block of time to take care of yourself.

Plan each day with some quality time, not quantity of time.  You must determine for yourself if this is right for you and your loved one as it is not a researched fact.  Just my opinion on this matter.  I don't want to disappear in this scenario and become exhausted so that I cannot perform this role at all!


These 2 things can help you when you are stressed out or exhausted:

Massage: A massage room at Ageless Wellness spa (No. Bethesda, Md.).  The therapist, Joy, really helped me on my path back to wellness.

Yoga:  I had trouble keeping up with the class since I hadn't practiced this in so long. Check with your doctor when beginning to exercise again.  

These are the prime activities I did to get myself back:

1) Be Alone to Meditate and enjoy silence.  This allowed me to get in touch with my core and rest.

2) Taking long walks

3)  Got a massage or two

4)  Took a yoga class

5) Eat what I wanted -- plenty of fruit, veggies, spices and herbs

6) Drank Tulsi (Holy Basil) Tea

7) Shopping - Yes shopping can be therapy plus you get some things you need for your own self comfort.  I bought a new nightgown and beauty products for instance.


I'm sure you will find activities that are unique to you.  You may like hiking, artistic pursuits or going to a concert, for instance.  Check with your doctor for advice.

From all of the above I began to:

REMEMBER WHAT IT WAS LIKE TO TAKE CARE OF ME!!!!  And, more importantly, begin to form new habits and awareness of actions I needed to take. (It took a full ten days to begin to feel better and I knew I still had a way to go.)


The lesson: 

Every caregiver needs to occasionally take a respite from care giving of a minimum of 1 week but ten days to 14 days is best.   If you are overly exhausted, I suggest at least ten days.

I hope this helps bring awareness to the fact that:

WHEN YOU TAKE CARE OF SOMEONE ELSE, YOU ARE NOT TAKING CARE OF YOURSELF.  THIS EVENTUALLY WILL CATCH UP WITH YOU AND YOU WILL BE IN AN EXHAUSTIVE STATE. 

The person with Alzheimers or other disease that demands a lot of caregiving is only 1/2 of the problem.  The caregiver suffers right along with and maybe more.  I believe this is a huge problem that needs urgent attention.


Places to Get Help:

  • Planned Alone Time Each Day
  • Caregiver Support Groups
  • Home Care
  • Adult Day Care
  • Respite programs at a facility
  • Friends
  • Family
  • Nursing Homes
  • Assisted Living facilities
  • Memory Care facilities
  • Adult Group Homes

End of Life Care programs for the patient that help the caregiver (talk to your doctor): 

  • Palliative Care 
  • Hospice Care for End of Life
  • Pain Care for End of Life

I want to continue to do the things I did to take care of myself that I discovered in the ten days of respite from care giving that I had while my husband was in the nursing home.  I don't want to forget what it was like to take care of myself.

Related Articles Coming Soon:  A Nursing Home Stay and What Is Home care Like. 


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