I am a psychologist with a PhD in Psychology. For years, I was a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in the states of WA and CA . I also taught online Psychology courses and am a certified coach.
Four years ago, my focus changed dramatically and irrevocably, when my husband of 58 years had emergency surgery. He had been experiencing some memory loss, but still worked full time, drove the car, managed the finances, and lived a normal life. After a nine-day hospital stay, his memory loss was pronounced and it never recovered
Whether caused by the trauma of the hospital stay, the effect of anesthesia and medication, or something else, I will never know. What I do know is that afterwards, he lost his job, barely knew his family members, and could not remember what was said from one minute to the next.
He constantly asked me how long we had been married and how old he was. He lacked confidence in going places by himself and panicked when I am gone for more than an hour. This man, who daily drove the streets of a major city for years, no longer drove because he got lost easily and made poor decisions.
Sometimes, he was moody and critical, but the mood passed and he was very loving. When the pandemic hit, his memory declined even further, our plans for keeping him at home no longer worked.
I have come to know the anguish and frustration of living with a person experiencing dementia, of having to place a loved one in a memory care facility, and of having to watch him contract COVID and die.
During these life changes, I adopted the following ten guidelines to help me manage. You can read more about them by downloading the article Optimal Aging for Caregivers. Briefly, the guidelines are as follows:
- Maintain a healthy lifestyle - Incorporate the six dimensions of wellness: physical, intellectual, social, emotional, spiritual, and functional in our lives.
- Develop a positive outlook – Focus on what I am grateful for and on my purpose, which is to keep him at home as long as possible and to pursue my own goals as well.
- Be resilient, resourceful, and willing – Identify ways to manage my emotions and his needs while he is at home.
- Practice self-care – Develop a self-care plan that honors me; only then can I best support him and the challenges he presents.
- Adopt effective habits - Choose resourceful and motivating habits; release habits that are outdated and are no longer effective.
- Evaluate perceptions and beliefs – Pick perceptions and beliefs that support me and release ones that don’t. All perceptions are not accurate and all beliefs can change.
- Accept life’s changes – What is not acknowledged, cannot be changed. Once I acknowledge what is true, then I can make wiser choices.
- Examine choices – Remind myself that I chose to live at home with my husband and make decisions that support me doing this time for as long as possible.
- Create an inner coach – Adopt an internal voice of encouragement rather than listen to an internal voice of criticism.
- Refuse to be a victim – Discover what I can do and find ways to manage the stress of life rather than drowning in self-pity. Focus on solutions and answers. Focus
While living with and caring for someone with dementia is my focus, the guidelines I adopted can be used by anyone who provides care to another.
These guidelines emphasize ways to manage your feelings and frustrations in thoughtful ways, express your pain and anger in appropriate ways, and handle the needs of the person you care for in compassionate ways.
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