A Caregiver Asks: How Do I Take Care of Myself?

When your daily routine is regulated by the needs of another and your work day is often 20 hours long or more there is barely a moment to think. Taking time for yourself when you are a caregiver looks very different than what other people may think

Well intentioned people don’t understand that admonishing a caregiver to add one more thing to the long list of things they have to do adds to their stress.  Caregivers, who are often the only person providing care, are lucky to get a shower and comb their hair each day let alone schedule a doctor appointment, meet a friend for lunch, or sit quietly and read a book.

So what can a caregiver do? Here are some suggestions that take only moments and may help.

  1. Sit down and breathe. Breathe in deeply for the count of four, hold for the count of four, and let it out for the count of four. Repeat these steps five times. These few moments of deep breathing will help your body let go of some of the stress it is experiencing. Even a little relief is a good thing and will help you get through the day. If you can’t find time to do this at any other time, do it when you are in the bathroom. A place where you can finally be alone.
  2. Put on music that you like. Happy and upbeat or soft and slow. Music playing in the background will give your mind a break from the details that run through your thoughts all day and night. It may even bring you a moment of peace or a happy memory. If it doesn’t work the first time, keep doing it anyway. One day you may start humming along.
  3. Cry. What you are doing is so hard and so all-consuming it is normal to be exhausted physically and emotionally. Let it out. Crying is a healthy way to let go of some of the anger, frustration, fear, and grief that come with being a caregiver. Cry as often, as loud, and as long as you feel the need.
  4. When anyone asks if there is anything they can do to help, give them a job. Tell them exactly what you need at that moment. It could be fifteen minutes to shower and wash your hair. Or a hot meal you don’t have to cook. Many of us need someone to listen and not judge as we vent. Whatever you need, don’t hold back. Often people want to help but they don’t know how.

You are a caregiver and caregivers are heroes, but people need to be reminded that even super heroes need help from time to time.

Bobbi Carducci, The Imperfect Caregiver


A Care Giver Asks: Why Does Mom Refuse to Enter the Bathroom?

This caregiver went on to say,  I’m having big problem. Mom refuses to enter the bathroom at all. She stops at the entrance and will not move.  She wears Depends  so toileting isn’t the issue. She refuses to go in to take a shower or even to wash her hands or brush her teeth.  I am baffled by this new behavior and don’t know what to do about it.”

The only constant in dementia care is that things can and do change, often at a moment’s notice. What is important for us to remember is that we have to enter their world.

Here are a few suggestions that may help:

Enter the bathroom and look around as if seeing it for the first time.

What do you see?

Is there a large mirror reflecting your image? People with dementia often don’t recognize themselves in a mirror. The old man or woman reflected in the glass can be frightening when memory has taken her or him back in time.

An easy fix for this is to cover the mirror with a towel.

 What do you hear?  

The acoustics in bathrooms often result in echoes when people speak in loud voices or the taps are turned on.Play some soft, soothing music to cover the everyday sounds we have become accustomed to.

What do you feel?

Is it a bit chilly and damp?Use a space heater to make sure the room is warm. Towels and washcloths should be soft and fluffy.  Older people have thin, often sensitive skin.

What do you smell?

A mix of aromas from soaps, shampoo, lotions, and perfumes may overwhelm someone with dementia. Try switching to scentless products and see if it makes a difference.

One or more of these suggestions could work for you and the person in your care. If not, it may be time to let go of traditional bathing and oral hygiene and go to bedside baths with a cloth and a basin of warm water and switching to a soft sponge oral hygiene swab instead of a toothbrush.

Bobbi Carducci



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