Caregivers come in all shapes and sizes from a variety of age groups. They may be male or female, spouse or significant other, child or sibling, grandma, grandpa, cousin or neighbor. In fact, at one time or another we probably all play this role, sometimes temporarily as Aunt Sally recovers from her broken leg, or long-term as with the loving care offered to a dear one with Alzheimer’s disease or other terminal illness. Caregiving in these latter cases may be 24/7 as the one offering care may be afraid to leave a loved one in the hands of others, may feel guilty about calling on someone else for help, or may be just too frazzled to realize that assistance from outside is essential and much needed.
Spouses and daughters often fulfill the caregiver role with those with Alzheimer’s disease. This disease of slow-motion death can easily require 10, 15, or 20 years of services. Early retirement or leaving a profession may become a necessity since Mom cannot be home alone or Dad has so many appointments that job juggling simply does not mix or it may be that a beloved husband or wife cannot bear to accept this terminal fate and so determines that if s/he just dedicates him/herself enough, the tide with turn and recovery will become reality. With Alzheimer’s, however, even though there may be days and hours of lucidity, eventually these melt to milliseconds when a flash of recognition crosses a loved ones face. No one needs to face this caregiving task alone.
With Christmas and holiday festivities upon us, here are some ideas as to how you can help a caregiver with just a little of your time and lots of your love. Remember, though, that often the caregiver will decline help, believing that everything is just fine, holding onto that thread of hope for a reversal, and so you may need to assert yourself a bit – with tenderness, of course. First you can offer time. How about a few hours of sitting with a loved one while the caregiver does shopping or just relaxes with a walk or some time of solitude? In the early stages games might be played or other mind diversions used. Perhaps you have provided a gift card for the caregiver for a hairstyling or an afternoon at the spa with your caregiving expertise included. What a joyous moment of relaxation and renewal will ensue for all three of you.
Another idea is paying for cleaning service for a week or a month or maybe window washing inside and out. You can help drag out the boxes of decorations and assist with filling the home with Christmas frivolity or you can go shopping and haul in foods of personal taste to caregiver and loved one. In early stages, dinner out can be a treat. Just be sure to select a quiet time of day and request seating away from wild crowds, if possible. Include loved one and caregiver in holiday parties while making certain that the celebration is not too crowded or noisy. If going out is not an option, bring family and friends into the home. A few at a time over several days can really lift the spirits.
Glance around your home and yard and determine what needs to be done and then, with permission, do it. Raking leaves, trimming branches, painting the fence, or removing debris will all be appreciated. Just be careful to not overstep boundaries leading to agitation and angst. Giving of your time and energy is the best present that many folks will receive this year and you will definitely make a positive difference in the caregiver and loved one’s life as well as enrich your heart and soul.