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  • Writer's pictureBarbara Huelat

Caring for Hearts: Coping Skills for Dementia Care

Caring for a loved one with dementia can be an incredibly challenging journey. In my case, it was my husband – my partner in life and business – who was slowly slipping away from me due to this cruel disease. Our once vibrant life was reduced to a daily struggle of helping him with basic tasks, and it felt like I was losing not only him but also myself. How does one cope with such a heart-wrenching situation?

As the dementia progressed, my own life was changing too. My responsibilities at the office grew, and I found myself juggling more tasks than ever before. Colleagues and clients started asking about Joe's absence, and the pressure mounted. How does one manage it all?

I kept the Alzheimer's diagnosis Alzheimer's diagnosa secret for a while, and I didn't share my concerns with anyone. I became physically and emotionally exhausted, but I never reached out for help. I tried to maintain the appearance of a normal social life, but it was becoming increasingly challenging. How does one maintain their own well-being in the face of such adversity?

My health eventually took a hit, and I had a wake-up call in the form of a heart attack. It was during my recovery that I realized the importance of coping skills. But how does one even begin to cope?

Many friends had advised me to take care of myself, but I was at a loss as to how to do that. Even a gift certificate for a massage didn't bring relief because I was so wound up with worry and responsibilities. How does one truly take care of themselves in these circumstances?

Looking back, I recognize the mistakes I made and the things I should have done differently. I was fortunate to survive, and I want to share some coping strategies that I found essential:

  1. Build a Support Team: You don't have to go through this alone. Reach out to friends and family early on and engage them in meaningful ways. People genuinely want to help; you just need to ask. Create a support network that you can rely on. Connecting with others who are also caregiving for loved ones with dementia can be invaluable. Support groups provide a safe space to share experiences, exchange advice, and find emotional support from people who truly understand what you're going through.

  2. Open Up About Dementia: Don't keep the diagnosis a secret. Share your story with the world, ask questions, and seek suggestions. There's no shame in facing dementia and talking about it can empower you. You'll soon become part of a supportive network where you can share experiences and help others. Your social circle will expand, and you'll discover valuable resources and creative solutions.

  3. Educate Yourself: Take the time to learn as much as you can about dementia and its progression. Understanding the disease can help you anticipate challenges and adapt your caregiving approach accordingly. Knowledge empowers you to make informed decisions. My book, Taming the Chaos of Dementia: A Caregiver’s Guide that Makes a Difference, offers valuable advice on art of caregiving and how to educate and take care of yourself.

  4. Prioritize Self-Care: Take time for yourself. Indulge in self-care activities that rejuvenate you, whether it's a long soak in a lavender bubble bath with herbal tea or catching that movie you've been wanting to see. Don't hesitate to ask a friend to stay with your loved one for a few hours. It's a small favor they'll gladly do.

  5. Seek Professional Help: Don't ignore the signs of chronic stress. Consult a healthcare professional and address your own well-being. They can provide guidance and interventions tailored to your specific needs. In my case, it was life-saving. Incorporate stress-reduction techniques into your daily life. Meditation, deep breathing exercises, yoga, or mindfulness can help you manage the emotional toll of caregiving.

As I reflect on my personal journey as a caregiver to my beloved husband, I want to leave you with this heartfelt message. Caring for someone with dementia is a profound test of love, patience, and resilience. It's a journey that often feels like an uphill battle, fraught with emotional turmoil and exhaustion.

There were moments when I questioned my abilities, moments when I felt overwhelmed by the weight of my responsibilities, and moments when I couldn't see a glimmer of hope. But through it all, there were also moments of pure connection, of fleeting memories that brought tears of joy, and of the deep love that remained, despite the disease's relentless progression.

In sharing my coping strategies, I hope to offer you a lifeline, a glimpse of the light that can shine even in the darkest times. It's okay to ask for help, to take moments for yourself, and to adapt to the ever-changing landscape of dementia care. You are stronger than you know, and the love you provide to your loved one is a gift beyond measure.

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