I haven’t written a post for weeks because I’ve been engaged in a battle: Caregiving versus life. Most jobs make it difficult to be a home #caregiver for a person with #dementia. I’m a writer so, theoretically, I can work at home and still manage my mother’s care. Unfortunately she now needs more support because her condition has slipped. I got a bunch of new writing assignments from clients at the same time. I’ve had to choose between being a good #caregiver and taking care of my own life.
Caregiving versus life
Most caregivers fight this battle in one form or another. You can’t accept a dinner invitation because there’s no one to stay with your loved one. You get no time to spend with visitors because some medical crisis needs your attention. We lose lots of opportunities to connect with people who might offer us support.
We don’t just miss social activities, we also forfeit huge amounts of money. An article published by the Family Caregiver Alliance estimates that “caregiving reduces paid work hours for middle aged women by about 41 percent.” Caregivers earn less because we work fewer hours, but the losses don’t end there. The article states that if you add lost Social Security benefits to the drop in income, caregivers lose a total of $324,044. The financial estimates in that article are drawn from the MetLife Study of Caregiving Costs to Working Caregivers, which was published in 2011. Those numbers must be much higher by now.
all choices have a cost
Like many caregivers, I’ve had to make hard choices. This spring I chose to do writing that would boost my income. That means I had to sacrifice some of my personal projects (like the posts I write for this site). I also decided to be less involved in some of Mom’s care and let the hospice helpers do more. No matter how you manage things, you’ll pay a cost while caring for someone with dementia. If you prefer, you can hand all the money over to a nursing home and let them do the work. But it’s a very imperfect solution. Residential care is not always reliable and you can lose sanity over that, too.
I’ve always felt that there were benefits to keeping our family together by caring for Mom at home. You cannot reduce those benefits to an economic price tag. Nevertheless, during the month of June I’ve made a promise to myself to stay focused on my work and let the hospice staff take more responsibility. It’s hard to give up some of the small acts of care that I enjoy performing. It is necessary, however, if we’re going to have a stable economic future after Mom leaves.
If someone in your family has dementia, you might be worried about losing your memory. While there are genetic factors we can’t control, studies now say that exercise and other good habits may protect our ability to remember.
In a recent AARP Magazine article, Lisa Davis (no relation to me) described how she investigated her own troubling lapses of memory. Davis went to Maryland’s Neurology Institute for Brain Health and Fitness, to undergo a comprehensive process now used to assess cognitive health. The brain exam begins with a health history to identify possible sources of past trauma (like concussions) or physical problems (high cholesterol, for example). From there, the exam moves into cognition tests that require you to complete word lists and solve visual problems.
The final aspect of the health review focuses on fitness. A person must ride a stationary bike while electrodes monitor how well their body pumps blood to the brain. As it turns out, this sort of exercise may be a really effective activity for preventing the advance of Alzheimer’s disease.
Davis cites the work of Dr. Arthur Kramer of the University of Urbana-Champaign whose studies have shown that older adults who walked for 45 minutes, 3 days a week, showed marked improvements on cognitive tests after one year of sustained walking.
In addition to adding this kind of basic exercise program to your life, you may want to consider other strategies suggested by AARP. They include:
- Learning a new skill — Have you tried knitting or carpentry? Mastering new ideas helps your brain build cognitive resilience.
- Getting sleep!! If caregiving responsibilities disrupt your sleep, try to figure out what you can change to get the rest a healthy brain needs. Consider respite care or trading night time roles with another family member so you can restore your cognitive health.
- Eating better — Focus on green leafy vegetables, fish, nuts and olive oil. Limit refined carbohydrates like bread and starchy snacks.
- Challenging yourself to memorize things — Try learning the names of trees and flowers in your neighborhood or the top golfers in the U.S. Open. Using your memory skills help you retain them.
- Learn to meditate — Practicing meditation improves breathing; this reduces stress and increases blood flow to the brain.
Of course, it’s easy enough to read a list of things we ought to do. If you are a caregiver, just keeping up with the demands of daily life might feel like a marathon. But no one else will protect your future health if you don’t do it yourself. Pick one thing in the list above that you’re not currently doing and make an effort to try it three times this week. They say it takes 21 days to establish a new habit. Your future is likely to stretch much longer than that. So why not start preserving cherished memories today?