Caring for the caregiver essential to well-being

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"My caregiver mantra is to remember: The only control you have is over the changes you choose to make." - Nancy L. Kriseman

Recently in the support group we were talking about self-care. Caregiver burnout, especially caring for someone with dementia, is an epidemic. Why is caregiving for someone with dementia different?

Persons with dementia can be very physically healthy and live for a long time with their disease, sometimes 15 or more years. As their memory declines, often they still have the energy to want to get out and do things.

Caregivers have shared that they have driven their loved ones around for hours just to calm them down. Then they get home and their loved one wants to "go home." They no longer recognize the house they live in as their home.

Trying to entertain someone who can initiate little on their own is a full-time job. Therefore, caregivers need to be vigilant about self- care.

Here are some things you might incorporate into your daily life to help you feel less anxious and perhaps even a bit happier.

• Journal. Writing down your thoughts is a good way to put things into perspective. This practice also helps you keep track of your loved one's behavior patterns and determine what works to calm him down. It takes just a few minutes a day and can become a relaxing habit.

• Research. If you cannot seem to resolve issues, try to talk with others via chat rooms, forums, support groups and books. Knowledge is power.

• Do something you enjoy. Try to incorporate something you enjoy when out with your loved one. If you like walking, get out and walk together. Perhaps browse in a bookstore, or just find a beautiful place and people watch. Our area offers countless area to enjoy the outdoors.

• Simple chores. If your loved one can still sweep, give her a broom or a rake, or have her polish silver. Giving someone a simple chore can help them feel successful.

• Watch a funny move or comedy routine. Laughter truly is the best medicine. Maybe your loved one will get involved watching something and you can sit and rest a bit together.

• Light a scented candle. A pleasant scent can change our mood. Add some calming music and you and your loved one can feel calmer.

• Meditate. When you feel overwhelmed with anxiety, try taking a few minutes to clear your head. There are so many guided meditations online. Start with five minutes a day and work up to more time.

• Just breathe. Stop and take some deep breaths that get oxygen to your brain.

• Never say no. If someone offers you help, take them up on it. Even if it is the gift of time, 30 minutes, so you can have a few moments for you.

If you need help, call Memory Matters or join one of our many support groups that are offered in Bluffton and on Hilton Head Island. Call 843-842-6688 or visit our website at mymemorymatters.org.

Karen Doughtie is senior program director of Memory Matters, serving Bluffton and Hilton Head. karen@memory-matters.org

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