The New Year has arrived – so now what?

By Laurie Ray, MSW, CMSW, C-ASWCM

New Year – New Path

Whether we choose to participate or not, the onset of a new year may bring with it a slew of expectations. Time to exercise and lose weight or save more money. The list is endless as to what resolutions we might at the very least consider.  It all seems so self-centered and unnecessary.

Now, if you are a caregiver there are others to focus on with more important priorities.  Their needs become your resolutions.

 Caregivers New Year’s Resolutions:

  1. Patience, patience, patience! It is so easy to react to a stressful situation without thinking, such as your loved one repeatedly asking the same question over and over.  It takes practice to not over react and say “Don’t you remember?  I just told you where we are going!” As a professional I still have to catch myself from saying” remember…..”
  2. Listen better. This also takes lots of practice because we are often thinking one thing while our loved one’s thought process is off in another direction. We try to correct or redirect their perspective but that is often a challenge and not worth the battle.
  3. Remember that you are human. So often I have family members express their guilt at having yelled at their loved one out of frustration. Whether it’s refusing to do something asked, inability to care for themselves, or saying inappropriate things in public. It is worth pausing to take a deep breath before reacting. In a moment of frustration it is easy to forget that when they were well they would never dream of saying or doing what is so upsetting to you.
  4. Old Habits die hard. Please take into consideration that over many years of marriage you developed habits, expectations, and normal reactions to what you each say or do. It is extremely difficult to undo what has been normal relationship behaviors.
  5. Learn to step away from conflict. Again, our knee jerk reaction is to respond as we always have and it can be so difficult to walk away but continuing any conflict is counterproductive. Take a break.
  6. Be understanding of their perspective. Your loved one’s world may be totally different from reality but it is much kinder and easier on all to join them where they are. Convincing someone that they can no longer go to work or go “home” can be fruitless and frustrating for all.  Take advantage of the opportunity to explore where their thought process is and join them in their memories.
  7. Enlist the help of others – family, friends, and volunteers. It’s difficult to admit that you may need help with this caregiving responsibility but remembering that you can only do so much is a great start. Accepting help from others is both a way to take care of yourself and for your loved one to adjust to accepting help from someone other than yourself.
  8. Educate yourself about available resources. Look into what your community has to offer. Check out the local council on aging, visit a senior center or adult day care center. Does your church have a senior ministry? Attend caregiving seminars.
  9. Create a sort term and long term plan of care. Sit down with an aging lifecare professional to discuss what your goals and expectations are, learn what resources are out there and create a plan of care. Peace of mind comes from feeling prepared for the unknown of caregiving and the fear of change.
  10. Take time for yourself – allow breaks. It takes work but do allow yourself a few minutes here and there to take a break. Going to the bathroom does not count! Running errands may be a break but you are often feeling rushed to get back to your loved one for fear of what might happen while you are away. Exercise, walks, music, journaling, surfing the web may be the brief respite you need.
  11. Join a support group. There is something to be said for sharing and listening to someone else’s experience, especially when it comes to caregiving.  Every situation is unique but hearing how others have handled certain situations can be a very valuable learning tool. Yes, it can be uncomfortable to share your woes with others but there is often a reality check when you realize that you are not alone. You may tend to keep what happens in your caregiving world from your friends since they might not understand. But a support group of those who are living our experience too can bring such a sense of relief and understanding.
  12. Find humor in your caregiving. We all have stories to tell. Some are sad and others are funny. I will always remember my father losing his teeth right before a dentist appointment. They couldn’t be found. Then the unexpected happened. Later in the day my dad would excitedly told us that he found his teeth. “Dad, where were they?” My father’s reply” In my mouth”!!  Who would have thought to check his mouth for the lost dentures?  There are so many funny stories – hold onto those memories.

This is a very ambitious list and not realistic to attempt them all but worth considering. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself as that will just create more stress and most likely more guilt. Happy New Year!


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