Mary was caring for her husband, John, who had dementia. The couple were both in their 80’s and had been married for more than 50 years. John’s decline after his diagnosis was gradual, and at first Mary was able to keep up with her normal routines.
One Tuesday when Mary arrived to pick John up from his coffee group, he was gone. She found him only a few blocks away, but he was confused, disoriented, and cold. She quickly took him home and called John’s doctor, who said this was to be expected at this stage of the dementia. The doctor also discussed options to help Mary with John’s care, but she refused help, certain she could take care of her husband.
Over the next several weeks and months, Mary stopped going to her social engagements. Mary’s daughter noticed that her mother sounded tired and distracted whenever they spoke on the phone. When the daughter came for a visit a couple of months later, she was more stunned by her mother’s decline than by her father’s advancing dementia.
When a Family Caregiver withdraws from social engagement because of their caregiving responsibilities, everyone loses. Taking time to yourself will make you a better caregiver by improving your morale and letting you rest and recharge. Maintaining your social circle is critical for your health, as well as the health of the person for whom you are caring.
Here are a few ideas for nurturing your friendships after you become a Family Caregiver:
- Don’t shut people out. You might not feel like you have the emotional energy or the time to engage with anyone else, but it’s important that you find the energy and take the time. Let friends help, and your burden won’t be so heavy. And if, from time to time, you need to cancel plans, stay in touch and let friends know what’s going on.
- Communicate honestly. Share what’s going on at home with others who are close to you. Opening windows into your life allows others to better understand your true circumstances, and your needs.
- Be a friend back. Look for opportunities to reach out first. Ask how friends are doing, and take an interest in their lives. Share positive stories about your life; it will lift your mood as well as theirs. Remember that they have problems, too.
- Make time for regular social engagement. Schedule, honor, and keep it. This will give you better balance and a greater ability to care for your loved one.
- Show appreciation to those who help you. Write a note, or send flowers. A small gesture goes a long way among friends, and this world of text messages, Instagram and email, a tangible thank you goes farther than you might even imagine.
- Utilize Social Media options to stay connected. Facebook is a great way to connect with people over vast geographic distances, or even just across the street. Skype, Facetime, or other video call platforms allow you to see your friends even if you are living in different time zones. Find an online support group and share your story with others who may resonate with it.
Finally, it’s important to maintain a healthy point of perspective on your particular situation. It might feel like your life is all doctor’s appointments and insurance paperwork, but that’s not who you are. Your friends love you, not your role as a caregiver. It’s okay to vent and share what’s going on in your life, but remember that it’s important to talk about other stuff, too.
Caregiving is a time in our lives when we are concentrating on the wellbeing of others. In order to maintain our own wellbeing, we should do at least minimal upkeep on outside friendships. The day will likely come when our caregiving season ends, and we will need our friends more than ever at that time. If we take an interest in what our friends are doing now, they are more likely to be around when our caregiving days are over.