I have a PhD in Psychology and was a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in the states of WA and CA for many years. I also taught online Psychology courses and took courses to become a certified coach.
Three years ago, though, my life changed dramatically and irrevocably, when my husband of 57 years had emergency surgery. He was experiencing some memory loss, but after the surgery and a nine-day hospital stay, his memory loss was dramatic. The anesthetist told me that sometimes a person’s memory is affected but usually recovers. His didn’t. Whether the memory loss was caused by the trauma of the hospital stay and surgery, the effect of the anesthesia and medication, or something else, I will never know. What I do know is that since then, he lost his job, he barely knows his family members or how they are related, and he cannot remember what is said from one minute to the next. He constantly asks me how long we have been married and how old he is. He lacks confidence in going places by himself and panics when I am gone for more than an hour. This man, who daily drove the streets of San Francisco, can no longer drive because he gets lost easily and has poor judgement. Sometimes, he is moody and critical, but the mood passes and he is very loving.
On the positive side, he is fairly functional, physically healthy, runs short errands, likes making puzzles, takes care of himself, and accomplishes small projects. He copes by joking and doing what he can to help out. Never did I envision we would spend our older years like this and never did I want to be a care provider. But here I am.
We visited a retirement community but neither of us liked that option. I visited memory care facilities, but he doesn’t need that level of care yet. So, I decided we would remain at home for the time being. The area is known to him, there are many stores within walking distance, the cost is less, and we can be together as long as possible. I also met with several home care agencies to get respite care, but he does not want “a stranger” in his home. So, it is mainly up to me! Over the past three years, I have come to know the anguish and frustration of living with a person experiencing dementia issues very well.
Because of these life changes, I adopted the following ten guidelines to help me manage. You can read more about the guidelines by downloading the free booklet 10 Guidelines for Caregivers. Briefly, the guidelines are as follows:
1. Maintain a healthy lifestyle – Incorporate the six dimensions of wellness: physical, intellectual, social, emotional, spiritual, and functional in our lives.
2. 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.
3. Be resilient, resourceful, and willing – Identify ways to manage my emotions and his needs while he is at home.
4. Practice self-care – Develop a self-care plan that honors me; only then can I best support him and the challenges he presents.
5. Adopt effective habits – Choose resourceful and motivating habits; release habits that are outdated and are no longer effective.
6. 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.
7. Accept life’s changes – What is not acknowledged, cannot be changed. Once I acknowledge what is true, then I can make wiser choices.
8. 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.
9. Create an inner coach – Adopt an internal voice of encouragement rather than listen to an internal voice of criticism.
10. 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 include 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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