Whether you’re providing care for an ailing mother with Alzheimer’s or just making sure your elderly father is safe and healthy at home, acting as primary caregiver for an aging parent can feel like more than a full-time job. Making sure that groceries are stocked, meals cooked and eaten, appointments made, medications taken on time, and any other myriad tasks that ensure quality of life can become physically, emotionally, and financially draining.
But there are powerful tools for caregivers to help ease the physical, mental, financial, emotional and spiritual burdens associated with senior care and memory care. Here are a few things that you need to know:
1. Outpatient physical and memory care programs
One of the goals of in-home care is to allow your loved one to receive care at home as long as possible. Most geriatricians agree that regular physical and mental exercise plays a significant role in staving off decline in the elderly.
Many YMCAs, physical therapy centers and even commercial gyms provide exercise programs specifically geared toward seniors and their unique physical needs. Water aerobics, light spinning classes and even yoga and Zumba classes can be highly beneficial to helping your loved one retain, or even improve, physical mobility.
Likewise, memory care programs exercise the mind. Some, like music or art therapy, have been demonstrated to be beneficial even to those seniors who are already suffering from mild to moderate dementia. Some medical literature suggests that art therapy and music therapy in particular may be linked to slowing the advance of memory loss, because both audible stimuli and memory are processed in the same region of the brain— the temporal lobe. By stimulating the temporal lobe through music, the thought is that memory processes are triggered and fortified against accelerating degenerative change. Additionaly, art therapists informally say that dementia patients express delight, appear more relaxed or exhibit less behavioral problems.
2. Respite care
Occasionally, you may need time away from providing constant care so that you can rest and recharge. Caregiver fatigue, also known as “caregiver burnout,” according to WebMD, “is a state of physical, emotional, and mental exhaustion that may be accompanied by a change in attitude — from positive and caring to negative and unconcerned.” Virtually all senior care experts agree that having regular intervals of time away from the immense responsibility is necessary for the wellbeing of the caregiver and, by extension, the care recipient.
Respite facilities specialize in providing extended overnight boarding for a person who needs care. Say, for example, you provide in-home, full-time care for a parent who cannot safely travel; if you need to go out of town for business, or a family emergency, or when you go on a much-needed vacation, your loved one can stay for a few days or weeks at a respite facility and receive the support he or she needs while you are away.
Respite retreats work the other way: they provide a place where the caregiver can go to stay, relax and recharge for a period of time, so that he or she can come back refreshed and balanced.
3. Adult day care
A variation on respite care is therapeutic adult day care. This is a daily program that allows the caregiver to go to work or run errands during the day while his or her loved one stays in a monitored, socialized setting.
Much like day care for children, adult day care provides a safe environment and activities for the care recipients. Some programs are run much like a day camp and include senior outings to restaurants, museums and community events. Many even offer physical, occupational and cognitive therapy services.
Remember, you are not alone.
Many others are in the same position. There are even caregiver support groups dedicated to providing emotional backing for providers. If you are feeling overwhelmed, use the tools we have discussed above and remember that the weight does not need to sit solely on you.