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Self Care for the Caregiver

As an Alzheimer’s caregiver, my needs usually came dead last to everyone else’s. After caring for my mother, being a wife, having two geriatric rescue dogs, a part time job with a busy primary care practice and another part time job as a massage therapist; any attempt to “take care of myself” was usually in the form of downing a multi-vitamin and remembering to put on deodorant. Usually. But not always.

I received a plethora of advice from friends, relatives and co-workers as to what I “needed to do” to take care of myself. But nobody giving the advice was living my life. Or had lived it.

I could not see the forest for the trees. Every possible change felt like “one more thing to do” and so I did nothing. In retrospect, there were simple, quick and healthy changes that could have made a positive difference in my energy level and overall health.

1. Drink water immediately upon rising. Even 4-5 gulps of water is better than nothing. And continue drinking water all day. Even in sips. Your brain will process more efficiently and crampy muscles will be alleviated. If you suffer from constipation or reflux, water intake is the most natural way to counteract these conditions.

2. Drink a 30-40 mg protein smoothie for breakfast. A huge dollop of morning protein will provide fuel for a hectic day and will help a taxed adrenal system to chill. My fav smoothie is almond milk, frozen banana, flax oil, pea protein, peanut butter powder (85% less fat than peanut butter), dark cocoa and vanilla extract. It takes me close to 90 minutes to finish it. It also prevents the late morning munchies.

3. Plan time away from the tyranny of the urgent every week. Even one hour in a corner of the library or park will give you time to regroup. If you are a caregiver, hire or ask someone to take the person you care for out for a couple of hours every week. Solitude in the privacy of your home is one of the best stress reducers imaginable.

4. An hour massage once a month. If you aren’t one to go for massage, then a mani-pedi. Or a hair appointment, facial or even acupuncture. But let someone take care of you for a change. Regularly.

5. If you need “help” then get it. When my mother lived with us I took an anti-depressant, a light tranquilizer and a sleep aid at night. I would have crashed and burned without them. It didn’t take me long to be weaned from these drugs after she was placed in assisted living. Of course, if you have struggled with addiction in the past, this is NOT for you. A homeopathic doctor can guide you in all natural choices if pharmaceuticals are not an option for you.

6. If you can afford some help in the house and/or yard, then get it. Or ask a family member who isn’t helping with daily caregiving to provide funds for household and/or yard help. Do not hesitate to get something taken off your plate. You don’t have to do it all. Really.

7. If you are the cook for the family, then cook in bulk. Whatever you prepare for dinners, prepare double the recipe and freeze the extra. Soup, chili, roasts, casseroles, spaghetti sauce, etc. On those mornings when your schedule is crammed full for the day, grab something out of the freezer to thaw. On the way home from work pick up some salads at a take-out restaurant. Throw some potatoes in the oven, heat up the leftovers, toss the salad in a serving bowl, microwave a veggie and voila! Dinner! Rotisserie chicken is a gift from above and very versatile. On days that get ahead of you, pancakes and sausage for dinner is acceptable. Maybe not for Jillian Michaels, but who’s inviting her?

8. Find a way to make movement a part of your day even if you feel there is no time for the gym or a run or even a brisk walk. I developed a stretching and toning routine that I did throughout the day. Whatever you can find time and energy to do…even if it doesn’t seem like much….even if it’s only 15 minute’s worth….it’s much better than doing nothing.

9. Talk to God. My God is the God of the Bible. Yours may or may not be. But something or someone greater than me knew the outcome of my challenges and obviously realized that I was the one for the task at hand. Who better to ask for help? Or cry to? Or even be angry at? There were many days where I needed comfort that could not be provided by friends or family. Who better to comfort me than the One who hold the Universe in His hands?

10. Lastly, realize that these days will eventually come to an end. The stress of caregiving will be replaced by grief, which will be replaced by memories. You will get through this. You will be stronger and you have something to be proud of.

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