Amy Goyer: Guilt is one of the most common emotions for caregivers ... I certainly have felt it too. There are times when you long for a change — but realize that change would mean not so great things for those you are caring for ... I get it. Here's the key when it comes to guilt: You have to keep on reminding yourself that you are doing the BEST that you can do. You have to accept the fact that you cannot give to others if you, yourself, are empty.
Remember on the airplane when they tell you to put the oxygen mask on yourself before you help a child or someone sitting next to you? It's just like that. You have to fill yourself up before you have anything to give. I learned this best when I took a tai chi class and the teacher talked about the movements into the body are gathering energy and the movements away from the body are moving energy out. It's the perfect analogy! If I don't gather energy, I become empty and don't have energy to utilize to do the tasks of caregiving. So when you feel guilty because you want a minute to yourself, STOP. Look at it this way: you aren't being selfish, you are actually just doing one step of the entire caregiving job. A very, very necessary step.
Comment from Michael N: Hi, Amy, love your blog! I would like to know if there are any activities I could with my aunt who has Alzheimer's while I am taking care of her? Something we could do together?
One of your best tools will be music — find out what music she liked in her teens and 20s and get some CDs or load up your iPod. Listen to music with her and sing along. Another good thing to remember is many folks with Alzheimer's need to stay active — they can't always hold long conversations, but they can DO things with you. Go for a walk, look at old photos, play a game, plant flowers, make cookies … create shared experiences. Hope this helps! Your aunt is lucky to have you!
Comment from Sheila: I am 55 years old, and I am the caregiver for my mom who is 85. I have no siblings, so there is no one to help me out. I cry a lot, and work 10 hours a day at my job, then attend to my mom in the evening. I need a support group. I am neglecting my own health. I am so tired. Please help me.
Amy Goyer: Sheila, I'm so sorry to hear you are having such a rough time! I can totally understand. Honestly, I have gone through times when I cry a lot too! Here is my blog post about one time I had a meltdown in a parking lot! You are overwhelmed with good reason. Caregiving doesn't happen in a vacuum — the rest of our lives go on and we are constantly pulled in many directions.
Here is what I want you to do:
1. Find a support group. Here is the link to the AARP online caregiver support group that you can access any time. Here's another article on finding a caregiver support group you can attend in person. You can also use the Eldercare Locator online to find your local Area Agency on Aging (AAA) for a list of caregiver support groups nearby.
2. Get help. It's time. Look into respite care — someone else who can stay with your Mom at least one evening a week so you can have time to yourself, go to a support group meeting, or just sleep! Here is some info about setting up a respite plan. (Also read my related response to Bob earlier in the chat.)
Remember that even a short walk, a cup of coffee or a quick phone call with a friend can offer a change of focus — even taking a deep breath and stretching is a useful break. Incorporate these throughout your day, at work and at home.