Five Lessons I Have Learned from Caregivers
As a Master of Social Work intern at Wilder, I have had the privilege to work with a number of caregivers. They are spouses, partners, friends, children, cousins, and more. There are number of facts and statistics that paint the picture of caregiving in America (available here and here) but this post is about the knowledge one can only gain through experience. I sat down with Abby, Bob and Rosemary, whose spouses have memory loss, to hear what they have learned on their caregiving journey. Here is the wisdom they would like to pass on to you.
1. Learn to Ask for Help
For caregivers Abby and Rosemary, asking for help from friends and family has been one of the greatest ways to care for themselves. Abby has said that asking her faith community friends for support has helped her and strengthened their relationship. Rosemary’s friends have taken her husband out for coffee or meetings and provided her with time to herself. Family has also been a great support to both these caregivers and their care partners.
If you’re feeling nervous starting to ask for help, try asking a friend or community for specific help. Maybe ask for help with chores or cooking. Reaching out to your friends and community can be a great way to find support and build friendships.
2. Create Little Rituals
Continue or develop little rituals with the person for whom you’re caring. Reading the newspaper in the morning and having a cup of tea at night has been a ritual Abby and her husband had always done. Now, Abby finds these little rituals hold meaning in a way they did not before. Learning to be present in the day to day has encouraged strength in her relationship with her husband.
Rosemary and her husband have always enjoyed spending time together completing jigsaw puzzles. Over time, they have learned to adjust how puzzles are completed so that they both can participate in the activity together.
3. Keep Humor Alive
Sometimes, life is just funny. Joking and laughing with their spouses remains a huge part of their relationship. Abby notes that you have to “turn the problems into a joke.” Bob enjoys joking and laughing with his wife. For him, humor is one of the best ways to relax. Throughout our talk, all of the caregivers enjoyed sharing some funny stories from their ongoing caregiving journey.
4. Join Caregiver Communities
Whether the caregivers joined Memory Club, Living Well with Early Memory Loss, or a Memory Loss support group, all extoled the invaluable knowledge they have gained from other caregivers through these groups. Bob and his wife joined Memory Club right away and met other couples who have continued to support them. Overall, Abby, Bob, and Rosemary said that other caregivers just “get it.” They understand what caregiving is in ways that others can’t always grasp. Finding a caregiver community that fits you is a great way to give and receive support!
5. Remember: The Diagnosis Is Not the End — It's the Start of a New Journey
Caregiving can be hard. All three caregivers discussed that there are definitely hard times and hard feelings to process throughout their journey. However, they have also said that with support, life goes on and even thrives.
Rosemary continues to take a trip every year with friends.
Abby shares chores with friends from her faith community so she can receive help as well as give.
Bob joined the Giving Voice choir with his wife. Giving Voice is a choir for both caregiver and person with memory loss through MacPhail Center for Music and the Alzheimer’s Association in MN-ND Chapter.
Through humor, activities, family, friends, faith communities, caregiver communities these three caregivers have gained a plethora of knowledge through experience (more information than a blog can relay). In the end, I know I will leave my internship at Wilder Caregiver Services learning more from caregivers like Abby, Bob, and Rosemary, than I could through any book.
Breanne Royer is serving Wilder's Caregiver Services as a Master of Social Work Intern. She attends Augsburg College.