BY VALERIE HOPSON-BELL
THE FREE LANCE-STAR

Consider these three scenarios:

Neighbors are helping neighbors on a regular basis by doing grocery shopping and running errands.

Church members are assisting a homebound member by balancing his checkbook and helping write checks for monthly bills.

A friend is bringing meals over three days a week and tidying up the living area for an ailing friend.

What do these situations have in common? All involve people who are serving as unofficial caregivers.

Caregivers can be family members, friends, neighbors, church members and others who do the work out of love and moral obligation. A caregiver can also be someone you hire for pay. Both help you manage your activities of daily living.

Being in this field of work, I have learned that seniors do not want to burden their family members, especially their adult children. Unfortunately—or in some cases, fortunately—it falls to those who are physically closest to those in need to pick up the slack.

Many times, adult children are the last to know that their parents can no longer take care of their activities
of daily living. Usually when the neighbor or church member becomes overwhelmed with helping the senior, calls are made to agencies within the community to find assistance. This step usually starts the discussion of getting the family involved.

In the adult children’s defense, I know that when people with dementia talk with their children they attempt to hide their inadequacies by keeping the conversations very general and by telling their loved ones they are fine.
Usually spouses protect each other in the same manner, and it isn’t until one of the spouses is removed from the situation that the family picks up on just how fragile the situation is.

If the person in need is alone, sometimes family members will not know until they go for a visit. Once the situation becomes clear, then someone steps in to provide care.

Dementia is a good example. Once a condition—dementia is a good example—has been diagnosed, the caregiver learns what the loved one needs help with.

I have a friend who said it best: “People know who they are caring for, but they don’t know what they are caring for.”

Be open to learning techniques for dealing with your loved one in a proactive manner. See out support groups that help you know you are not alone in your situation.

TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF
I believe one of the most important pieces of the caregiving puzzle is to learn how to take care of yourself while providing daily care to your loved one. If you don’t take care of yourself, then you will not have any energy to fully care for someone else.

Oftentimes caregivers will not maintain doctor visits for themselves; they forget to exercise and to eat nutritiously. They allow themselves to become drained, and it soon leads to caregiver burnout.

Look for ways to reduce stress, such as getting a massage, maintaining your hobbies and using talk therapy or counseling to help you release anger and, in some cases, guilt.

Tips for successful caregiving:
1. Respect your loved one’s dignity.

2. Give your loved one some control.

3. Carve out some “me” time.

4. Establish a routine for yourself and your loved one.

5. Focus on your loved one, not on the disease.

6. Don’t be afraid or ashamed to ask for help when needed.

7. Make a conscious effort to remember the good times.

8. Preserve your friendships.

When there are multiple caregivers, it’s very important to determine one another’s strengths.

One person might be more organized and more adept at maintaining records. Another may be more skilled at communicating with family members and doctors.

One person might be more nurturing and should be the “hands-on” caregiver. Another might be better equipped to help maintain the house and lawn.

Everyone is not cut out to do everything in providing care to others. Do not judge. Accept what others have to offer and celebrate your partnership in caring for a loved one.

Caregiving is a hard job. You will get frustrated, but try to remember why you’re doing it in the first place. Diseases often change people, so remember the core of your loved one prior to the disease.

After it’s all said and done, know that you’ve done your best.

APPRECIATING CAREGIVERS
Partners in Aging Inc., a local nonprofit group, is hosting its first Caregiver Appreciation Luncheon on Sept. 13.

The group is accepting nominations for Caregiver of the Year. If you know someone deserving of a nomination, visit partners inaging.org or call Teresa Bowers at 540/371-2704.

Valerie Hopson–Bell is a geriatric care adviser at ElderCare Connections LLC. She can be reached at 540/419-4387 or vhb@eldercareconnections.net.