How to Reduce the Stress of Caregiving by Individualizing Your Approach with Family Members and Several Solutions to Help Manage the Person with Dementia Who is Still Living at Home: Join the Livingto100.Club
Living longer means that physical decline is more likely to accompany our later years, whether in our sensory systems, agility and balance, mental function, communication skills, or the myriad chronic diseases that we see in old age. And, as our population ages, more caregiving is being provided by family members and other caregivers who are not paid health care professionals. A report by the Mayo Clinic found that about 1 in 3 adults in the US provides care to other adults as informal caregivers. There are many recommended strategies for caregivers to reduce their level of stress and burnout – accepting help, joining a support group, staying connected with others, and other useful steps. One approach that is often overlooked is the notion of prevention, accomplished by individualizing the way we interact with the family member who needs some level of care.
To be sure, caregiving comes in all shapes and sizes, depending on the functional capacities of the care recipient. Whether it is a spouse, sibling, or parent, we know that caring for a frail, bed-ridden person requires strategies that are very different from those needed for the person with moderate to advanced dementia who is living at home. Nonetheless, underlying all care at home – and actually in any setting – are the elements of two-way communication and tolerance for differentness. This means individualizing our approach to the unique needs of the care recipient, focusing on listening more than advising, and collaboration on solutions and fixes. These approaches will be more effective in the long run and more respectful of the person we are helping.
Individualized Care Means Two-way Communication
Our loved ones must have an opportunity to ask questions, to voice their anxieties and fears about what can be expected in their future, and to have a say in what goals should be set in their care. One-way communication from the caregiver to the care recipient is an outmoded approach, and leaves much to be desired when it comes to engaging mom or dad in adapting successfully to the changes he or she is facing. We increase the chances of better coping when the care recipient has enough information to make informed decisions and becomes part of the long term goals for him or her. When we overlook or minimize the person’s involvement in his or her own care, and don't take the time to really hear what he or she wants, compliance is likely to be superficial and temporary, and often a decline in functioning can be expected.
Individualized Care Means Understanding the Diverse Interests and Needs of Our Loved Ones
Acknowledging that a parent or spouse will voice different needs from what we want for this person is conducive to more compliance with the overall plan of care. Allowing mom to visit friends or continue in her weekly swimming classes creates opportunities for maintaining her quality of life and also respects the person’s remaining decision-making capacity. Or signing up the husband with Alzheimer’s disease for harmonica lessons – an activity that is very plausible for certain dementias – offers relief and gratification for the caregiver wife. True, we must manage the risks that come with this level of independence but we also know that compromises and alternative solutions are always available. We want to protect a family member from possible harm, of course, but allowing the person to stay involved in desired activities of daily living or different self-care activities fosters a sense of purpose and meaning and keeps the fire burning.
Solutions to Reduce the Most Stressful Aspects of Caregiving
There are many products on the market to help caregivers. Here are several highly-recommended, best-selling resources:
General Resource Book
Reducing Fall Risk
Optimal Dementia Care: Activity Boards, Training Video, and Guide BooksThe 36-Hour Day: A Family Guide to Caring for People with Dementia and Memory Loss