Building caregiver resilience during COVID-19
The COVID-19 pandemic is creating unanticipated challenges for many families affected by dementia. Many family caregivers find themselves caring for someone at home without their usual support networks or community programs. Others worry about the safety of a relative who is living independently in the community with decreased levels of assistance and support, and still others are worried about a family member living in a long-term care home who they are unable to visit.
As well as feeling overwhelmed and worried many caregivers have shared that they also feel guilt and grief. It is so important to remind yourself that the challenges that the COVID-19 pandemic has brought were unexpected, you could not have prepared for this, and this is not your fault.
These additional challenges and emotions may make the role of caregiving for a person living with dementia even more difficult. It is important to:
- Take care of yourself. Make sure that your needs are being met so that you can continue to stay healthy and provide care. This crisis will pass, we just don’t know when. That is why it is so important to prioritize self-care now. Remember to check in with yourself:
- Are you eating well?
- Getting adequate physical activity?
- Sleeping too much, or not enough?
- Keeping in touch with other people?
- Give yourself time to process the information, news and to adapt to the changes to daily life. Feeling anxious, frustrated or sad are common emotional reactions to the changes COVID-19 has brought. For caregivers, these reactions can be compounded by pre-existing feelings of stress, worry, grief and guilt. It is important that you acknowledge and manage your own emotional reactions to reduce the risk of becoming overwhelmed or experiencing negative affects to your health.
- Recognize that you are doing the best you can. The COVID-19 pandemic is unprecedented so it may take some time to adjust to the limitations brought on by physical distancing practices and to figure out new routines or activities. Remember to be kind to yourself as you figure it all out.
As a caregiver, you need to take care of yourself. You are the most important person in the life of someone of living with dementia. Self-care is vital and will be even more important during these heightened times of stress.
- Try to stay positive – the current situation is temporary. Think about the positive aspects of your life. Remind yourself that, as a caregiver, you continue to make a big difference to the person you are supporting.
- Make back-up plans. Talk to other family members and create a plan for the instance that you or the person who has been shopping for you becomes ill. In times of crisis, it is reassuring to know there is a back-up plan. This can lesson the worry about an uncertain future.
- Stick to a routine. Both you and the person living with dementia will benefit from a regular and predictable daily routine. Maintain a consistent bedtime and get up at the same time every morning. Eat meals at consistent times. Schedule physical activity, rest times, social time, and purposeful activities into each day.
- Avoid information overload. There is news available about COVID-19 24 hours a day. While it is important to stay informed, too much information can become overwhelming. Limit your news to reputable sources and consider setting a time limit or schedule times into your daily routine to get caught up on the news.
- Stay connected. One of the most challenging aspects of the physical distancing and isolation requirements is a significant decrease in the interactions we have with others. Consider options for staying in touch with friends and family. Regular phone calls or visits over Skype can help you and the person living with dementia to maintain the feeling of being connected to others.
- Get support for yourself. It is important that you get support for your experiences. Identify a trusted family member or friend who can be there for your when you are feeling overwhelmed, frustrated, or tired and need a listening ear. Sometimes just knowing there is someone you can call for support is enough to boost your resilience.
- Use some of your time at home to learn about dementia and caregiving strategies. Explore the Alzheimer Society of B.C.’s website for information on topics like communication and behavior, strategies for managing symptoms like responsive behavior, or activity ideas.