It’s a bit late, but Happy New Year!
You see, it has been a few years since I gave or received this traditional greeting exactly at the stroke of midnight. This is because as a family caregiver who is depended on by precious loved ones, especially in the early morning, I simply can’t afford to be awake at midnight, New Years or not.
And though I wasn’t there to greet it, the new year is here regardless, with gifts in hand. Of course, by gifts I mean those traditional lists of mostly unrealistic and soon-forgotten resolutions.
These lists apply to us family caregivers as well. Personally, it’s usually around this point, when time and energy permits, I draft my list, after pausing for a few minutes and reflecting on the past year. As a family caregiver, my list is comprised of ways to improve my dear ones’ care. Now having done this for years, I’ve come to a genuine realization about these lists: we caregivers are often too hard on ourselves, and it just isn’t healthy as it just adds to our existing and at times overwhelming stress. Often, we only remember the bad — our impatient behavior or the edge that grows in our tone of voice after answering the same question 10 times within the last hour.
This realization led to an understanding: We need to be compassionate to ourselves, as we are to others. We need to give our lives some harmony and grace.
1. MORNING GRACE FOR YOU AND YOUR LOVED ONE
How to give yourself grace in the morning:
Carve out time for you, alone, to plan your day. A quiet cup of coffee does wonders for clarity about planning your day as a family caregiver. The morning is a fresh start and great time to explore fresh ideas. Also, you having a routine may also benefit your loved one, as it help them design their own morning routines, like staying in bed and watching a show while you’re getting ready.
How to extend grace to your loved one in the morning:
What are their needs early morning? Explore ways to anticipate and preempt their needs so they are content, and your quiet time is minimally affected by urgent unmet needs or wants. For instance, you can set the table and the coffee pot the night before. So, simplify and make a routine and prepare everything you can the night before. You’ll see immediate dividends and a smoother morning transition.
2. GRACE AT MEALTIME
If your loved one has difficulty deciding what they want for breakfast or they consistently take 10-15 minutes to decide each time, try making that decision easier for them by letting them decide between two things.
Like: ‘Do you want cheerios or oatmeal today?’
Loved ones with any type of memory impairment can be easily overwhelmed with too many options, a bewildering amount. Often they don’t even yet realize it is breakfast time.
Simplifying mealtime can extend some needed gentle grace to both us and our loved one.
3. EXTENDING GRACE WHEN HARSH WORDS ARE SPOKEN
When strong or hurtful things are said you should immediately stop, lean your body down so you are eye level with them, look them in the eye, and tell them you are sorry. Even if they do not appear to understand what you are saying, they DO understand a spirit of gentleness, and tender eye to eye contact. Body language is very powerful communicator, forgive yourself and go on.
When your loved one lashes out with hateful accusations, and cruel words. Again, stop, remember, and recognize that this is not them thinking rationally. Memory impairment brings about a growing frustration and an inability to verbalize what is being felt deep inside.Think how it must feel to not be able to verbalize the deep sense of feeling lost, with looming fears and an uncertainty of what the next minute or hour holds. Extend them grace and be thankful you can look beyond their words.
4. EXTEND MORE GRACE TO YOURSELF AND YOUR LOVED ONE AS THE DAY IS ENDING.
Do not let the fatigue from the day cause your mind to review and criticize your caregiving. Self improvement self talk is better done when you are fresh and full of ideas. Nighttime self talk is almost always overly critical and discouraging.
If you find yourself doing this, stop.
Do not examine your perceived shortcomings as a family caregiver when you are weary from the day. Give yourself a grace period.
How can you apply this to your senior loved one?
If your senior has any type of confusion, it is commonly more pronounced in the later hours of the day. The brain is fatigued from trying to make sense of the all the activity and stimuli of the day as well as trying to sort out confusing, jumbled together, tangle of disconnected thought.
Extend some grace.
Do everything you can to soothe the troubled thoughts and perhaps vague agitation. Distract them from their obsessing.
This time of day is very challenging for many caregivers who have loved ones who seem to change personalities when the sun goes down. What if they cannot make sense of their day and realize that it is ending. What then?
Here are a few suggestions: take a walk with them to help relax their tense long muscles. Put background music on that is to their taste. Maybe sing to them, or let them sing with you. (If you would like more information about the SUNDOWNERS SYNDROME and tips on creating a smoother evening transition, please sign up for our newsletter.)
In summary, let’s remember to grow and show the following simple grace tips to ourselves and our loved ones:
- Carve out time and give yourselves some grace.
- Make routines and simplify wherever you can.
- Simplify options
- Stop and say ‘I’m sorry’
- And extend your grace to those loved ones who hurt unknowingly.
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