Every minute or so there is a diagnosis of memory issue which, with a host of other physical ailments, can replace retirement plans with caregiving.
Picture by jusben.
The secret for good retirement may be to go with the flow of reality while splashing a bit in the waves. Even people who did all the right pre-retirement planning can be hit in the face with illnesses or cognitive issues which radically change the course of retirement activities. This presents challenges for both the patient and the caregiver.
Challenges Faced by Senior Caregivers
Grief and anger both may be part of the initial phase of the process of becoming a caregiver. Often without warning, they may become victims of constant bombardment with issues and situations needing their attention. Battle fatigue may be next, further complicating the daily decisions and tasks. A caregiving spouse may grieve the loss of their lover and companion as they have known in the past, yet can find ways to still be a friend to the patient.
It can be helpful to find a safe way to express this legitimate anger–about feeling vulnerable or being afraid. Talking to a friend can be helpful as well as physical actions like wadding up paper to get some release of stress. A support group can be encouraging as this caregiver is forced to take on more and more leadership in the relationship.
One of the ways this stress may manifest itself is with depression, a red flag calling for immediate professional attention. When an older caregiver is eating or sleeping more than usual, it can signify the presence of depression. Other changes may include more TV and sitting than usual and neglecting personal hygiene. Some even increase smoking and drinking and avoid their friends. Upon questioning, they may even begin to feel life is just not worth it. Time to get help.
In addition to seeking help from a medical professional or counselor, some senior caregivers find comfort and hope through their faith. According to Marlene Peterson, a social worker who led a workshop at the 2011 Caregivers Conference, ” Meditation and prayer won’t be just about feeling the negatives, but about continuing to take another step.”
What to Tell the Patient About the Process Including Diagnosis
Give as much information as the patient can tolerate without doing harm to the caregiver, patient, or family. This may involve more information for some, yet less information for a dementia patient.
Consider the reality may be, “This is as good as it gets” and look for life within that possibility.
Clarify to yourself and the patient that it is not anyone’s fault.
Ask the patient and yourself what you need at this point.
Use redirection techniques to help in finding enjoyment in a more limited way. For example, for an avid gardener who can’t manage the whole garden any more, provide container gardening on a smaller scale.
Respect the patient in the new reality and get to know him or her in a different way.
Ways to Survive and Thrive as a Caregiver in Retirement
There are a number of situations where a retiree becomes a caregiver. Some involve physical ailments and others deal with memory issues, dementia or Alzheimers. One goal may be to move on through the grief process and embrace the struggle, accepting that things are different now. Caregivers need to intentionally take care of themselves while tweaking their lifestyle to accommodate the changes in their lives. Tips include:
Make gratitude as regular as a daily vitamin. At some point early in each day, stop, breathe in, and note something to be thankful for. Smiling makes it even more effective. This resets the emotions and allows a more positive background for the rest of the day, as opposed to the default setting of suffering which can plague a caregiver.
Make sure end of life paperwork is complete for both the patient and the caregiver. This takes a major stress out of the pathway of events to be dealt with.
Look for and accept help. Consider using respite care facilities, home health providers, or volunteers to allow caregiver renewal. Also talking regularly about daily happenings can help bring them down to a manageable size.
Seek positive meaning in your experiences with reflection and reframing the reality. Viktor Frankl’s book Man’s Search for Meaning speaks to this concept which he refined while in a concentration camp. This neurologist and psychiatrist shares his wisdom and suggests that we can choose a shift in thinking.
Many older adults had grand plans for traveling and enjoying the company of their spouse in retirement. Yet reality doesn’t always turn out as expected. Nevertheless, life can still be adjusted to and enjoyed while senior caregivers face challenges, deal with what to tell the patient about the diagnosis, and make a daily choice to survive and thrive as a caregiver in retirement.
Copyright Hildra Tague. Obtain permission for use online or in print.