Sandra Savell cared for her mum who had Alzheimer’s disease for ten years. Here she shares some tips for caregivers
As an Alzheimer’s carer, my needs usually came dead last to everyone else’s. After caring for my mother, being a wife, having two geriatric rescue dogs, a part-time job with a busy primary care practice and another part time job as a massage therapist; any attempt to “take care of myself” was usually in the form of downing a multi-vitamin and remembering to put on deodorant. Usually. But not always.
I received a plethora of advice from friends, relatives and co-workers as to what I “needed to do” to take care of myself. But nobody giving the advice was living my life. Or had lived it.
I could not see the forest for the trees. Every possible change felt like “one more thing to do” and so I did nothing. In retrospect, there were simple, quick and healthy changes that could have made a positive difference in my energy level and overall health.
1. Drink water immediately upon rising
Even 4-5 gulps of water is better than nothing. And continue drinking water all day. Even in sips. Your brain will process more efficiently and crampy muscles will be alleviated. If you suffer from constipation or reflux, water intake is the most natural way to counteract these conditions.
2. Have a protein breakfast
A huge dollop of morning protein will provide fuel for a hectic day and will help a taxed adrenal system to chill. I love a protein smoothie – they’re widely available now. My fav is made with almond milk, frozen banana, flax oil, pea protein, peanut butter powder (85% less fat than peanut butter), dark cocoa and vanilla extract. It takes me close to 90 minutes to finish it. It also prevents the late morning munchies.
3. Plan time away from the tyranny of the urgent every week
Even one hour in a corner of the library or park will give you time to regroup. Best of all, ask someone to take the person you care for out for a couple of hours every week. Solitude in the privacy of your home is one of the best stress reducers imaginable.
4. An hour massage once a month
If you aren’t one to go for massage, then try a manicure or a hair appointment. But let someone take care of you for a change. Regularly.
5. If you need “help” then get it
When my mother lived with us I took an anti-depressant, a light tranquilizer and a sleep aid at night. I would have crashed and burned without them and it didn’t take me long to be weaned from these drugs after she was placed in assisted living.
6. If you can afford some help in the house or garden, then get it
Or ask a family member who isn’t helping with daily caring to provide help. Do not hesitate to get something taken off your plate – you don’t have to do it all. Really.
7. If you are the cook for the family, then cook in bulk
Whatever you prepare for dinners, prepare double the recipe and freeze the extra. Soup, chilli, roasts, casseroles etc. On those mornings when your schedule is crammed, or if you’re having an off day, grab something out of the freezer to thaw.
8. Find a way to make movement a part of your day
Even if you feel there is no time for the gym or a run or even a brisk walk. I developed a stretching and toning routine that I did throughout the day. Whatever you can find time and energy to do…even if it doesn’t seem like much….even if it’s only 15 minute’s worth….it’s much better than doing nothing.
9. Look to a higher power
There were many days where I needed comfort that could not be provided by friends or family. My God may not be the same as your God, but if you can finding something or someone greater than you – a place to sound off, to cry, or be angry – it can be an enormous help.
10. Lastly, realise that these days will eventually come to an end
The stress of caregiving will be replaced by grief, which will be replaced by memories. You will get through this. You will be stronger and you will have something to be proud of.
Sandra’s book Dear Clueless: A Daughter’s Journey Through Alzheimer’s Caregiving is available on Amazon.