We've all watched or tried not to watch, the boring movie about seat belts, exits by wings and washrooms. The oxygen mask falls from the ceiling for no apparent reason and a mother calmly puts it on her child first.
The picture this paints seems unrealistic. What harried parent wouldn't grab for the mask, screaming, "We're all going to die!" Still, it makes me think.
Why do we have so much trouble putting our own mask on first?
Applied to care partners, why is it so hard to take care of ourselves?
Here are some reasons given:
"I don't have time."
"Compared to my loved one's pain, my complaints are small and unimportant."
"My head is so full of the details of their care, I forget about myself."
These aren't excuses. Each of these and other statements are legitimate. Caring takes gobs of time and heaps of headspace. But consider this:
An oft-cited 1999 study found that caregivers have a 63 percent higher mortality rate than non-caregivers, and according to Sanford University, 40 percent of Alzheimer's caregivers die from stress-related disorders before the patient dies. 1
Sobering, isn't it?
Here's the bottom line:
Look after yourself or you won't be here to look after your loved one.
How do you do it? It's nothing you haven't heard before, but with statistics that high, it bears repeating.
1. Get Enough Sleep
Everyone is different in the amount of sleep they need, but it's a good guess that you aren't getting enough.
- Don't stay up to get things accomplished when your loved one goes to sleep.
- Take a nap when they do.
- If they wander or are wakeful, hire someone for several nights a week to be with them while you sleep.
2. Drink Enough Water
- Fill a large water bottle with water and ice and take it with you wherever you go. Flavour it if you have trouble drinking water as I do.
- When it's empty, fill a large water bottle...
3. Eat Healthly Food
- Don't bring junk food into the house, except for a rare treat.
- Make sure there are healthy options of finger foods available that you can grab on the run.
- When you are able to cook, make larger batches and divide into meal-sized portions for freezing.
- When you don't have time to cook, have simple options that are quick to prepare and easy to grab on the run, such as fish sticks, cheese, cut-up fruit etc.
4. Physical Health
- Keep doctor's appointments for yourself.
- Deal with any physical issues. Don't put things off.
- Exercise, even in small increments. Use the stairs instead of an elevator, or park at the far end of the parking lot.
- If you have a friend or family member staying with your loved one, resist the temptation to run around like a crazy person getting things done. Use the time for you and take a walk. Let nature speak to you.
5. Emotional/Mental Health
- Acknowledge your feelings. Are you angry? Depressed? Frustrated? Name what it is you are feeling so you can begin to deal with it.
- Talk to a counsellor. Perhaps a pastor or even a paid counsellor can help you walk through this time. It's always wise to get help.
- Find a support group. Everyone needs this. Your friends and even your family may be well-meaning, but there's nothing on earth like talking to someone who understands.
- Be honest with your family. Tell them you need help. If they can't supply it, perhaps they would be willing to help pay for it.
- Look for community resources--respite care, day programs, special activities.
- Talk to a friend. Even if they aren't in the same situation and can't totally understand, they cvan provide a listening ear.
- Keep your sense of humour. It's a key ingredient to keeping your sanity.
- What gives you a sense of purpose and fulfilment (outside of caring?) Spend some time each week doing that.
Remember--put your own oxygen mask on first!