Prioritizing Yourself: An "Unpopular" Approach to Alzheimer's Caregiving

It's easy to become lost in the "popular" way of giving care, where we end up sacrificing our own well-being for the sake of others. And I say "popular" because it has been a deeply ingrained belief for many caregivers - me, included - to self-sacrifice when looking after another person.

But this is not the only path forward. There is an "unpopular" route that involves finding a balance between self-care and caring for others. After all, we can only pour from a cup that is full and overflowing. This means recognizing our need for self-care and prioritizing it, not just as a "nice-to-have," but as an essential part of the advocacy process.

So, how can we practice balanced advocacy for ourselves and of others? As a former caregiver with over a decade of experience caring for my own mom while she lived with Alzheimer's, here are my strategies that I have found to be the most helpful.

1. You can't pour from an empty cup!

It's easy to think you are obligated to do more than you actually are, but it is important to remember that setting boundaries with doctors, family, and friends is absolutely necessary in order to protect your mental health and wellbeing.

At doctor appointments, it's important to be an advocate for your own health. Ask questions and share details about your symptoms — don't be shy! When I was a caregiver for my mom, I used the Notes app on my phone to jot down any symptoms I noticed I was experiencing.

From insomnia to higher glucose readings, I made it a habit to ask my doctors about them so that I could receive the best care possible. Taking notes of symptoms is incredibly helpful, and you can bring this list (or open the Notes app) with you to the appointment.

2. Assert your boundaries and stick to them

When it comes to family and close loved ones, it is also vital to set boundaries. Since I was a caregiver for over 10 years, a lot of my family became accustomed to me being accessible, because I was home. However, as a caregiver, being home does not equate to not being busy, in fact, we tend to be the busiest at home! I had to learn how to create a boundary that allowed me to not feel obligated to do anything or be anywhere if it was not something that my mental health could handle.

Repeating affirmations worked wonders for me on this front. Each morning I would do my affirmations, and it really helped me to become more confident in saying "no." It also made me feel like the weight of being a caregiver was not dragging me down.

My caregiver affirmation: It's perfectly okay to say no!

3.Take time for yourself

Be firm with your family about the time you take for yourself as a non-negotiable! This could be as simple as setting aside 30 minutes for yourself during the weekday or spending one day a month to get your nails and feet done along with a massage.

As a former caregiver, I would turn my notifications off to really indulge in the "me time" moment and be fully present and mindful.

Whatever your wellness rituals are, make sure to secure the time for yourself so that you can take care of you without guilt. It's important to remember that self-care is not selfish and it does not have to involve doing anything grand or expensive. In fact, it doesn't have to cost you any money at all.

Perhaps it is meditating for 10 minutes each morning, listening to a podcast or audiobook while you are running errands, or just taking the time to play with your pet. Whatever it is that you decide to do, make sure it's something that brings you joy and allows you to take a step back from caregiving.

4. Don't be afraid to ask for help

The idea of asking for help can often make us feel vulnerable and unsure, but it is important to remember that you do not have to do everything alone. This was a huge challenge for me since starting my caregiving journey I felt alone for so long. I found it difficult to rely on anyone else.

Eventually, I started to learn that asking for help was something I needed to do in order to take better care of myself and my loved one who is dealing with Alzheimer's disease. Reach out to family members, friends or even local organizations online so you don't feel like you are carrying the entire burden alone.

Prioritizing yourself when caregiving

There are so many different resources out there — from online support groups and forums, to in-person therapy, or even just a friend who is willing to lend an ear. It is also important to recognize that just because our family or doctor can see us, they may not understand all that entails our daily challenges. Speak up and articulate what you need — it can help to make your life a whole lot easier.

No matter the path we choose, let's recognize that taking care of ourselves is just as important as taking care of others; our balance is the key to achieving healthy relationships with family and friends, as well as in our caregiving lives. You got this!

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This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

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