February 25, 2021
By: Dr. Adriana Shnall, PhD, MSW, RSW
Program Director, Baycrest@Home, Clinical Programs &
Koschitzky Centre for Innovations in Family Caregiving
Assistant Professor, University of Toronto
It hasn’t been easy, this pandemic. For more than a year now, we have all striven to make the best out of an unprecedented global health crisis. Between the lockdowns, school closings, supply shortages and slower-than-hoped vaccine rollouts, even the most resilient person can get depressed and anxious.
Imagine then, what it would be like to be going through all that plus
attending to the added responsibilities of being a caregiver to a person living with Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia.
It’s no wonder that caregivers need all the support they can get for the immense work they do every day. So here are my Top 10 suggestions for how they can best care for themselves in these times, and how we can all care for the caregivers.
For the caregivers themselves:
- Don’t be afraid to ask for help; and when you do, be specific on what you need help with. Ask directly for assistance. E.g., “I need help with groceries” or “Can you please help me with shoveling my walkway?” etc.
- Be flexible and accept that some things are out of your control. For instance, no matter how much you would love to get a vaccine now and want your life to be back to normal, it is not possible. There are simply not enough vaccines available.
- Be kind to yourself and look after your own needs. For example, don’t delay that medical or dental appointment that is overdue. Make time to get it done for your own health.
- Acknowledge your feelings. Remember, it’s OK to feel sad. These are very difficult and unprecedented times for everyone. Give yourself permission to feel however you need to.
- Seek support and stay connected. Whether through your friends, family members or colleagues, make sure to arrange regularly scheduled times to zoom or have a phone conversation. You might consider joining a caregiver support group or contact a healthcare provider to discuss any mental health issues/concerns.
- Keep a daily routine. As much as possible, try to wake up, have breakfast, go for a walk, etc, at the same time; and keep regular sleep hours.
- Exercise and get fresh air daily. Science has shown that exercising outdoors has a beneficial effect on our overall brain health.
- Have a plan. Prepare contingency plans in case something happens to you or the person you care for. I.e., if you became ill, what would you do with the person you care for? Make sure you keep a list of the care providers, POAs and people to contact in case of emergency. Being prepared in this way will help to relieve your stress.
For those who want to support a caregiver:
- If you are offering to help a caregiver, be direct and offer your assistance willingly and pointedly. E.g., instead of asking “Can I help you with anything today?” - which puts the decision-making onus on the caregiver – instead say, “I notice you are very busy today. Please tell me what you need from the pharmacy and I will be happy to go get it for you.”
- Send words of encouragement. If you know a caregiver who’s giving their all to help someone, a note of thanks or a “you’re so appreciated” message can go a long way to help validate all their work. Everyone likes positive reinforcement and for caregivers, this can be the sentiment that helps them through a particularly hard day.
Remember, caring for yourself is every bit as important as caring for others.