Always remember that part of caregivers’ duty to their loved one living with dementia is to take good care of themselves. Most caregivers feel that all their time, energy and care should be given to their loved ones. However, the person living with dementia may suffer too if caregivers do not look after themselves.
Looking After Themselves
Here’s a thought to keep in mind: In the safety briefing before an aeroplane passenger flight, a flight steward tells adults to put on their own oxygen masks first before helping children put on theirs. This is because if the adults lose consciousness, the children will not be able to depend on them, and their lives will consequently be at much greater risk.
A lifestyle that lacks physical activity is a risk factor of all major diseases. Moderate exercise, such as walking, helps as an easy way to exercise. Regular exercise not only improves mood and appearance, but also gives one opportunities to meet new people. As much as possible, find a way to have at least some exercise done.
30 to 40 minutes of exercise 5 times a week is recommended, but regular 5- to 10-minute intervals daily is great as well.
Most people think relaxation is only about clearing one’s mind, but it is actually about observing and understanding things to overcome negativity and cultivate constructive thoughts. One can even go for a massage, a facial or out for a swim as these activities can also serve as a way to relax and meditate.
Nutrition is important. Make it a habit to read food labels and avoid foods with high fat content. Learn about, understand, and monitor portion sizes so that one knows how much of each kind of nutrient the body needs.
Many caregivers do not get enough sleep because their care recipient needs help during the night. Oftentimes, the best solution for this is to draw up a roster so that family members can take turns to stay awake.
The journey as a caregiver can be less stressful if one practises meditation that focuses on mindfulness. Think of meditation as sitting still and doing nothing.
Here are EIGHT easy steps to manage stress through meditation in 5 to 10 minutes:
1. Sit up straight on a chair or a big, firm pillow.
2. As one inhales, tense up the entire body – arms, legs, buttocks, fists. Scrunch up the muscles on the face too.
3. Hold for two to three seconds.
4. Exhale and relax (repeat twice).
5. Take a deep breath. Let the belly expand.
6. Exhale and relax (repeat twice).
7. Breathe normally and be aware of one’s thoughts for five minutes. Do not give in to the thoughts or resist them.
8.Think of each thought as bubbles floating up to nothingness. These thoughts may include sad thoughts, happy thoughts, or angry thoughts.
Most people think meditation is about clearing the mind of all thoughts. Instead of emptying the mind, observe yourself having the thoughts. There are no right or wrong thoughts. Do not focus on the thoughts, but do not force yourself to stop thinking either. An easy way to do that is to name each thought as it comes along with what one thinks it is, such as “sad thought”, “happy thought”, “angry thought”, “depressed thought”, “to-do list thought”. Then, let the thought go. One may continue labelling the thoughts as they come along.
Use a kitchen timer to help keep track of the five minutes.
How much time one spends meditating is not important. One can start by first spending five minutes meditating. Thereafter, when one is more used to this duration, they may attempt increasing it. Meditation can be effective in reducing stress if one practises it every day.
Caregivers are encouraged to meditate before their loved one living with dementia wakes up, after he or she goes to bed, or is taking a nap. Caregivers may spend only five or ten minutes meditating, but they will most likely notice its benefits after a few weeks.
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