By: Fran Bulloff, VTI President
There are millions of adult caregivers in the world who dedicate much of their time and strength to others. Whether they are professionals in homes or senior living settings, or unpaid family caregivers, they are particularly taxed during the COVID-19 pandemic when they have little or no access to outside help. Caring for older adults with living with Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias is particularly challenging now. Previously cheerful Mom, who was disoriented but enjoyed social interaction and walking to group activities, is now in full panic mode during lockdown. Grandpa, a Holocaust survivor, now thinks he is in hiding from the Nazis and is hoarding his food rather than eating it. The beloved Husband, who was a banker, sits despondently in his room and says he has no money to lend. Sensing their new helplessness against the raging virus and increased isolation, older adults living with dementia evoke demons of their past. Those charged with their care are rightfully anxious and alarmed about them, adding to their own stress level and feelings of being overwhelmed. They feel out of control and need outlets and activities which they can control to manage their own health.
Caregivers are finding it harder to focus and concentrate, are simply worn out and often burned out. Some develop their own physical and emotional illnesses. They need to find ways to decompress and care for themselves if they wish to function effectively. Every person has different ways to reset and relax. It is difficult to change gears and take a break from focusing on others to focus on oneself even for short intervals. Practicing self-care is often low on their list of priorities when they cannot find enough time in the day to do everything required of them.
When given a break and the directive to care for themselves, some focus on their physical wellbeing first and can benefit from even a short walk outside, a nature hike, a bicycle ride, jogging, working in the garden, yoga, dancing, or following an exercise video. Others feel energized from more cerebral activities like backyard bird watching, doing a jigsaw puzzle, playing video games, meditating, or praying. Others find cathartic outlets in the arts: drawing, coloring elaborate designs, listening to or playing music, writing a journal, watching a comedy on tv, singing in the shower. Still others turn to personal grooming to restore themselves such as taking a nice hot bath, painting ones fingers and toes, braiding hair, trimming a beard, changing hair color or style. Sometimes a simple telephone call with a friend or a family video chat will do the trick. Caregivers tend to lose themselves in their work and need to combat feelings of frustration with feelings of self-worth. What gives you a lift and helps you ease your burdens?
Vicki de Klerk Rubin, a Validation Master and Executive Director of the Validation Training Institute (VTI), has written an article called “Stop. Breathe. Take a Moment”, which will appear in the June VTI Newsletter. Look for it on our website. While you are browsing our website, go to “Free Resources” for a series of short how to videos demonstrating how simple Validation techniques like centering, which can diffuse difficult situations, create better relationships, and improve communication. Some of the videos are designed specifically for caregivers helping disoriented older adults during a quarantine. This week I would like to thank caregivers who often feel they are doing thankless work. They matter and their caregiving matters. Take care of yourselves as well as others.