Minding Our Elders: Practicing self-care can seem impossible to caregivers

Dear Carol: I’m 76 years old and taking care of my husband who has vascular dementia. We can’t afford regular in-home help or adult day services for my husband and he can’t be left alone very long without supervision. Our joint friends either don’t know how to talk with my husband or else they tell me that they “can’t stand to see him like this,” so they don’t come around. I have some women friends who would come over, but even when they are here, I must keep tending to my husband while we visit so I tend to put them off.

I’m not really complaining except to say that I’m tired of seeing articles on how important self-care is to caregivers when I don’t see any way to do this. Frankly, it’s depressing, because these articles seem to be telling me that I’m failing in some way if I can’t do what they suggest. Yes, you’ve written them, too. Thanks for letting me blow off steam. — YR.

Dear YR: You have every right to feel frustrated by these articles. I’ll tell you upfront that I often feel hypocritical when I write them because during much of my caregiving life, I would never have been able to put into practice many of my own suggestions.

In my defense as an elder care writer, I will say that since I must cover a wide range of situations, I need to present options for people who want to find some way to take better care of themselves. What writing about self-care does is provide individual caregivers with food for thought, and for those who need an extra push, it reminds them that practicing self-care is not selfish. In fact, it’s the exact opposite, because most of us will be a better, more patient caregiver if we have had a little time to nurture ourselves.

So how can someone like you do this? It’s hard, but your plan to take better care of yourself need not be elaborate.

Playing music that you and your husband enjoyed in the past could help you both relax. For you alone, a meditation program to follow during quiet times could be helpful. There are free websites on the internet that can guide you.

I would suggest, also, that you rethink your position on your women friends visiting. Since they are willing to come over, they expect that you will need to keep an eye on your husband and accept that. Their visits could help refresh your outlook for a time.

Additionally, a valuable option for you might be an online support group. Two sites that have spousal groups are Caregiver.org and The Well Spouse Association.

The last thing we who are or have been long-term caregivers want to do, YR, is to add more “shoulds” to your list. We can only offer suggestions and hope that one thing or another may seem doable. If nothing else, try an online support group. That connection could help enormously.

Carol Bradley Bursack is a veteran caregiver and an established columnist. She is also a blogger, and the author of “Minding Our Elders: Caregivers Share Their Personal Stories.” Bradley Bursack hosts a website supporting caregivers and elders at www.mindingourelders.com.


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