To all of the amazing caregivers, family and professional, in hospitals, nursing homes, or elsewhere who have been literally risking their health, their very lives and well-being, this is a tribute and salute to you. May you always be aware of the deep gratitude and admiration so strongly felt by all of us for your dedication, caring hearts and sacrifice to help our nation conquer COVID-19.
Blessing for Caregivers written by Karen Bonnell, Music: Stuart Shelton, from the CD Music Dimensions, available on Amazon.com
"There are four kinds of people in this world: those who have been caregivers, those who currently are caregivers, those who will be caregivers, and those who will need caregivers."
No matter which of the above four categories outlined by former First Lady Rosalynn Carter you may fall into, there is little doubt that your life has been affected by Alzheimer's -- either through a family member, friend or spouse. I won't bombard you with statistics, since they are all over the media airwaves, thankfully so! But I want to point out the there are over 65 million family caregivers in the US alone, mostly women, struggling along as the unsung heroes or sheroes, as the case may be, who deal with this disease or others, daily.
I want to let you know that they need your help. Yes, I'm talking to YOU! This is not a disease which will allow cheering from the sidelines. You're going to have to get down and dirty, and maybe take a few hard knocks for the team and almost definitely get out of your comfort zone. If you know anyone who is dealing with Alzheimer's, for heaven's sake, help them out!
Here are some things you can do:
1. Give them a huge hug and a warm, sincere "thank you" for their love and care. Let them know you acknowledge how tough it can be. It will make both of you feel better.
2. Offer practical help: a couple hours of respite care so they can go to a movie or shopping or take a nap. Do their laundry at your house and deliver it clean and folded. Take their children out for an afternoon of fun at the park or zoo to give those "sandwiched" between elder care and child care a break on one end of the caregiving spectrum. Find information about resources available in your local area for support, respite, help and give them to the caregiver with encouragement to help them follow through.
3. Take a walk to end Alzheimer's on Saturday, October 19, when the Alzheimer's Association is sponsoring a national fund-raising event. Click on the Alzheimer's Association link above to sign up. Get your company involved in matching donations raised (if you work for a company so inclined).
4. Help start a Memory Cafe in your community. Here's a "Toolkit" guide for this very worthwhile project and more information about how successful they are and how easy it is to bring better quality of life to those with dementia. There are currently about 80 Memory Cafes around the US, mostly grassroots local efforts, and so very helpful to caregivers and those with dementia. The concept is really taking off in the UK, with excellent support from the government. Here, unfortunately, we have to do it ourselves.
5. Be an advocate for creating dementia-friendly communities, so that caregivers can take their loved ones out to a restaurant, shop, church, or other public event without feeling the terrible stigma that tends to pervade uninformed environments. It isn't that people aren't willing to be dementia-friendly. They simply don't know how. Educate yourself, then educate others. See the excellent resource "Aging, Dementia, and the Faith Community: Continuing the Journey of Friendship" by John T. McFadden, M.Div., Chaplain at Appleton Health Care Center in Appleton, WI)
6. Practice the Mosquito Principle: "If you think you're too small to be effective, you have never been in bed with a mosquito." So, go ahead and be annoying to the decision-makers who can help to fund the end of Alzheimer's. Bother everyone you can think of and be very persistent in your efforts to help caregivers at the end of their rope, dealing with Alzheimer's. You CAN make a difference. Practice being mosquito-like. It can actually be fun, once you get the buzz, er, whine of it!
7. Introduce folks to this website which has a depth of resources, links, tips, advice and sanity-saving humor to help caregivers maintain their own well-being. There are helpful ideas about using music, meditation, aromatherapy, self-care, inspiring books, personalized playlists on iPods with www.musicandmemory.org, and so much more at www.caregiverwellness.biz.
8. Lastly, practice outrageous acts of kindness and caring for the people you love, and maybe for strangers, too. Use the Pay it Forward concept. Reach out and offer your support in big and small ways. Be vocal, be an activist, be a pain in the patooti, but be involved. If we are not, who will be?
"Beginners and outsiders are open to possibilities and don't make assumptions. By extension, they're often better at finding solutions the experts have stopped seeing."
I have a great deal of respect and compassion for caregivers. It is a very challenging role, as I have often mentioned here. One of the reasons is that you have to be a "beginner" over and over, each day, each moment -- caregiving requires looking at your situation with new eyes and a fresh perspective, constantly adapting to changes. As I observe caregivers I find the ones who are able to stay in the "beginner's mind" are usually more successful and less stressed because, as the quote above attests, they are better at finding solutions.
Try using "beginner's mind" when assessing your own state of mental, physical, & emotional/spiritual wellness and how to adapt it to your unique relationships and care situation. You must trust your own instincts because you know yourself and your situation better than the "experts" do! There is plenty of expert advice about caregiving on the internet, in books and blogs, from doctors, friends and family -- but you know best how, or even whether or not, to apply it to your own life. Trust that inner knowing. Nurture it with whatever techniques appeal and work for you. My personal favorites for this type of nurturing are meditation, music & yoga, but you may find taking a walk in nature, riding your bicycle or going to the beach may work better. Be open. Seek to do what is necessary to stay in an attitude of being a beginner. You may find it's quite enlightening and exhilarating to keep open to new ideas, feelings, possibilities. There is a certain perfection in the present moment for each new "beginning".
"When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be." ~Lao Tzu
Karen is a compassionate, enthusiastic student of life, who cared for her mother for 17 years. She brings her insights, compassion, experience and desire to share knowledge and healing to this ongoing conversation with others on the caregiving path. If you are caring for a parent, spouse, friend or other loved one this site offers sanity-saving tips, open-hearted self-care ideas, and an open forum for discussion, connection and sharing resources for the journey.
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