Tips on being a caregiver AND keeping your sanity!

By now most of you know my story….30-something woman, B.S. degree in Chemistry, full-time caregiver for 11 years.  How did I manage to successfully care for my grandmother and keep my sanity during the entire process?  It wasn’t easy.  I applied the same trial and error mentality I had used in my Chemistry courses to create a caregiving strategy.  The following day-to-day tips will help you create a balance between your caregiving duties and personal life.  Everyone needs balance!

1.)  Create a Routine

Although each day as a caregiver has unexpected twists, try to create a routine that’s beneficial to you and your loved-one.  An environment becomes less stressful when those involved know what to expect.  Feed meals and give medications at specified times each day.  Try following an effective sleep schedule.  A customized sleep schedule is vital in avoiding caregiver stress and burnout!

2.)  Make Time for Fun Activities

My grandmother was house-bound, so we spent A LOT of time inside the same four walls.  Planning fun activities enabled us to laugh and be active while being limited to the home.  Those activities included baking cookies, watching her favorite television shows, dancing or rolling (she was in a wheelchair) around to her favorite music, going outside in the warmer months to plant flowers and mulch the flower beds.  These little things kept her happy and me sane!

3.)  Remember Yourself

When caring for an ailing loved-one, it’s easy to forget yourself.  Your most important concern is the well-being of your patient.  But, try to dedicate some time to your own personal life.  An unhealthy caregiver is not beneficial to themselves or the patient.  Allow 30 minutes of YOU-TIME a day.  These 30 minutes may be available early in the morning, before your loved-one wakes or during your patient’s afternoon nap.  Whenever you can sneak a little time for yourself, DO IT!

4.)  Be Happy

Caregiving is a stressful situation and if given the opportunity your loved-one nor you would choose this life path.  Whatever the circumstance, your loved-one is dependent upon you for their well-being.  Never make them feel like a burden.  No matter how stressful the situation or lifestyle becomes, try to keep a smiling face.  It provides your loved-one with security and reassurance.

5.)  Ask For Help

Don’t be afraid to ask for help!  Short-term breaks can alleviate a lot of stress.  If given the opportunity, ask someone to relieve you from your caregiving duties.  Take an extended lunch break or arrange a date night with the hubby.  It sounds small, but those few hours will make the coming days SO much easier.

Caregiving is a stressful but rewarding experience.  As a caregiver you have the ability to create an amazing bond with your patient.  I’m so glad I chose to be my grandmother’s caregiver!  We created an unbreakable bond filled with happy memories.  GOOD LUCK!

Caregiver stress….YES it’s real!

You have a B.S. in Chemistry….what do you know about caregiver stress?  A lot more than you think.  If you’ve had the time to read my others posts, you realize I’m a CHEM enthusiast.  Five grueling years of mathematics and chemistry courses to garner my degree and academic distinction amongst peers.

It was at the beginning of these five years that my caregiving journey began. My grandmother had a stroke when I first entered college….I was 18 years old.  The stroke left her with right-side paralysis and speaking difficulties.  My family and I were faced with a decision….who will care for her?  My older brother was working full-time and my younger brother was still in high school.  Then there was me….the college bound Jersey girl with big Chemistry dreams.  Who says the middle child isn’t the best child?  Faced with the dilemma of nursing home or homecare, I spent many days in a daze thinking about the future.  What’s more important, the happiness of my grandmother or my career path? Hands down….the happiness of my grandmother.  So, in 2004 my grandmother and I embarked on a memorable 11 year journey.

As I said earlier, I was 18 years old when my caregiving journey began and my grandmother was 73.  How was I going to convince this, up until now, extremely independent woman that I was capable of caring for her during her time of need?  My grandmother’s thoughts were written all over her face….I’m going to be dependent on this teenage girl, who barely knows how to drive or cook?  Yes.

There we were, two women separated by decades, expected to get along and balance life.  Easier said than done.  Although I chose to care for my grandmother, I didn’t want to delay my education.  So, I decided to balance caregiving and college.  It was difficult, but doable!  Besides, the life skills I was learning through my Chemistry course work were coming in pretty handy at home.  My grandmother’s recovery was slow, but steady.  She never recovered from the paralysis, but was successful in overcoming her eating and speech difficulties.

Fast forward 5 years….2009.  I just graduated college with my degree in Chemistry and WHAM, grandmom had another stroke!  Not again.  This stroke left her completely dependent on me.  Because of the seriousness of her condition, I wouldn’t be able to work and I WASN’T putting her into a healthcare facility.  I became my grandmother’s 24-hour caregiver.  From feeding tubes to tracheostomies….we covered it all!  I should have majored in healthcare!

From 2009 until her death in 2015, I cared full-time for my grandmother.  It was during these 5-6 years I suffered from caregiver stress.  When you say you’re a caregiver, people jump to the conclusion that you don’t work, stay at home, eat bon-bon’s, and watch television all day.  These people couldn’t be more wrong!  Caregiving is a full-time job with a lot of overtime.  You sleep when the patient sleeps.  Caregivers are at the mercy of the patient’s schedule.  Adapting to this schedule is difficult and can’t be achieved overnight.  Realistically, you may never adapt to the schedule….you just go with the flow.  That flow involves many sleepless nights and hours of direct contact healthcare.  No sleep and hours of helping the patient causes mental and physical exhaustion.  There’s no break from these relentless hours and no one to relieve you from your duties.  It’s just you and your patient….just me and grandmom!

Days turned into nights and nights into days, but one thing stayed constant, my devotion to my grandmother.  Just when I thought I could no longer deal with the stress of caregiving, there she was smiling and nodding, letting me know how grateful she was for my presence.

Don’t let caregiver stress deter you from caring for your loved-one.  Caregiving is HARD, but with proper knowledge and resources you can avoid stress and burnout.  Thank you for reading and take care!