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Roldan Sevillano Jr.     The Caregiver
     Part 1

When you decide to care for an older individual whether it be your parent, aunt, uncle, etc., it is important for you to see the blessings of what you are doing far beyond the challenges that you will experience. Caring for someone is a very big responsibility. It often consumes a lot of time and energy from your already busy life. Many of those caring for a loved one are already supporting their own families, careers and personal ambitions. Always remember that what you are doing is a sacrifice rooted in deep compassion, respect and love for the elder in your care. Taken from Age Friendly Manitoba, here are some helpful tips in being a caregiver.

Strive to maintain independence

Many of you will encounter challenges with offering help to your loved one. Seeing them in their compromised state may lead you to do everything for them. Remember that aging is a progressive process, not an overnight occurrence. It is important for you to focus on what the person can do and respect their desire to remain independent. Avoid the tendency to treat older people like children, if not in your words, then in your actions. Also acknowledge when they do need help as often times they may not request it. Part of preserving health and overall well-being is in preserving their dignity and encouraging a balanced and safe independence.

It’s ok to feel frustrated and guilty

“Why do I feel so guilty? I have so much on my plate, I’m doing the best I can…” Caring for someone can be an emotional roller coaster for both the caregiver and the recipient. It’s OK to feel angry. It’s normal to feel overwhelmed. You are not alone. Find comfort in knowing that there are countless others that are going through the same experiences as you are. Find strength in your own support networks. You are only one person and you can only do so much. Do not let guilt overwhelm you and recognize that feelings of guilt can be harmful to you. As difficult as it may be to accept at times, you are dong the best you can, even if it doesn’t feel that way. Keep your perspective.

Avoid taking the tension out on others, as this will only add to additional feelings of guilt and loss of control. If you find yourself snapping at the person in your care, stop. Take a break and do something positive for yourself to reduce the tension. It is important to take care of yourself as well. When you are compromised, your loved one will be compromised.

Dealing with physical and mental changes

Changes in physical and mental abilities can be attributed to age as well as past traumas. Whatever the case, the greatest thing you could do for the elder in your care is to educate yourself on the various disabilities your dependant has. I hear too often caregivers becoming overwhelmed and unable to manage the changes taking place in their loved one. “I don’t know what’s gotten into my mother. She keeps arguing with me. She does the strangest things sometimes and can be so stubborn. This isn’t like her…” Understanding what’s happening is essential in developing the best plan of care. Communicate with your loved one’s doctor and have regular discussions on disease progression and adaptive techniques. The more you know, the better off you are.

“My dad was the nicest person I ever knew. He wouldn’t hurt a fly. Now, two seconds won’t pass by without him yelling at me. Am I doing something wrong?” Dealing with challenging behaviour could be an indication of age-related diseases such as dementia. Some symptoms of dementia may include forgetfulness, changes in personality, repetition, losing things, aimless wandering, verbal aggression, and belligerence just to name a few. It’s never easy to see someone you love endure this type of hardship and there is no way to remove the initial sting of diagnosis. Part of caring is preparing. If you notice these symptoms occur, use the time you have to understand the disease, consult a physician and develop an approach.

In the next issue, I look forward to further identifying and appreciating the role of a caregiver. We will be touching on such things as community resources, dealing with stress as well as the many rewards to caregiving. To conclude I leave you with one of my most favourite prayers.

Serenity Prayer

God grant me the Serenity
To accept the things I cannot change
Courage to change the things I can
And the wisdom to know the difference.

Resources: Age Friendly Manitoba, a guide for the caregiver, Winnipeg Regional Health Authority, Alzheimer Society of Manitoba

This article is for information purposes only and should not be intended as medical advice. Should you require further information, please seek the services of your medical professional.

Roldan Sevillano Jr., works as a Recreation Therapist in a Winnipeg nursing home.

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