Two adult sons help their mother with Alzheimer’s make and pack up food in the kitchen.

Caregiver Burnout: Caregivers Need To Eat

Being intimately involved in the care of a loved one with Alzheimer’s often means the caregiver puts themselves on a shelf. It can be so rewarding to be a part of the journey our loved one is traveling, but it is also so very hard for both. Caregivers give selflessly, very often at their own expense. My mom did. She did so much for my dad. She made sure he had everything he could possibly need. But what about what Mom needed?

Mom wasn't eating well

One need I could see was that Mom wasn’t eating. Let me restate that. She wasn’t eating well. She made sure Dad was eating. Towards the end of Dad's time in their home, Mom made Dad whatever he would eat as his appetite and ability to eat were changing.

More often than not, Mom was eating canned soup or sandwiches. Now, in general, that’s okay in the short run. But every day, for dinner? Not bad, just not great. As time went on, Dad’s behaviours in the evening were escalating. He was sundowning and was needing more attention.

By the time Dad was settled after the sundowning, Mom didn’t have any energy to make herself some healthy foods to eat. She was just too tired. Mom didn't usually allow others into her home to help out as it always seemed to make Dad worse having strangers around. I had many conversations with Mom about her self-care. She would listen but wasn't able to hear.

Ways to eat better as a caregiver

I talked to mom about how Mom could eat better.

I suggested getting out the crockpot. Mom did more of that as she often had simple ingredients in the house, and it was not time-consuming to assemble the meal. That was a success for a while.

We talked about making sure she had groceries in the house. We talked about how she could buy fast prep, healthy meals at the grocery store. All good advice, however, she couldn’t take Dad shopping to get those groceries or prepared meals. He would wander off. We talked about how some grocery stores can take her grocery list over the phone, assemble, and deliver it. That was too much for Mom to even think about. Those ideas were just not feasible.

I suggested a service that would deliver to the home hot prepared food at lunch time a couple times a week. Mom seemed interested when we talked but she never accessed this service. It was just one more thing to do on top of all the things she had to do already for Dad. That idea was out too.

A network of support for the caregiver

At the time Dad was changing so quickly, I wasn’t able to help Mom very much in person. I had serious things going on in my own family that didn't allow me to travel to where Mom and Dad lived. Both of my brothers were in a better position to help out. Both liked to cook.

My one brother made trips to where Mom and Dad lived a number of times. He helped Mom do some batch cooking. They froze several meals for Mom and Dad, but these were mainly dishes Mom could defrost and eat or microwave for herself so she didn't have to think about cooking after Dad went to bed. This worked quite well and Mom said she really liked this. My other brother would fire up the bbq and cook some good meals when he was in town too.

Not only did we manage to help mom eat better, but we were able to assist Mom with planning ahead for Dad. My brothers could talk to Mom about some of the harder issues that she was avoiding talking about on the phone. Sometimes difficult conversations are easier to talk about over a task or meal.

With all the focus on the person with Alzheimer's, it's easy to forget the basic needs of the caregiver. We need to ask, suggest, and help out where we can. We need to be sure they are eating.

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