Begin the day with a thankful heart. It sounds trite and almost impossible if you are caring for a loved-one with Alzheimer’s /dementia. We see this saying on signs, refrigerator magnets and almost everywhere these days. Gratitude is a crucial key to keeping a caregiver’s life in balance. In fact, numerous studies have shown a direct link between gratitude and wellness. It can change our attitudes, expectations, as well as our perspective. As caregivers, practicing gratitude positively affects our well-being as well as those for whom we care.
Living with constant stress, coping with daily challenges, and watching loved-ones slowly decline takes a toll on the physical and emotional health of dementia family caregivers. An attitude of gratitude has proven to increase happiness, decrease depression, and fosters resilience. Expressing our feelings of gratefulness, induces the relaxation response thus reducing stress and promoting better sleep.
A sign hangs in my home that says, “There is Always, Always, Always; Something to Be Thankful For”. Although when a caregiver is overwhelmed by all the endless tasks and emotions of caregiving, it can be hard to recall this simple saying, let alone put it into practice. Once gratitude becomes part of your daily life, it’s easier to find reasons for which to be thankful. You might be grateful that you still have your health or woke up with an abundance of patience. Perhaps, you both laughed together during breakfast, he winked at you or she smiled and said, “I love you”. Or being grateful that at least one of you still has a sense of humor by the end of the day, even during those moments when you both don’t agree on what is truly funny.
You might be thankful for family or friends who are willing to support you from one day to the next. Graciously accept their offers of time and talents without hesitation. Most caregivers are far better at giving than receiving. There are times when caregivers are too overwhelmed to know how to respond to a friendly solicitation. And those desiring to help you will often need some direction as to what would be useful.
Throughout this journey your needs and stamina will be ever changing… as is everything else. When family and friends enquire, consider these suggestions. Use post-it notes on a bulletin board or refrigerator to indicate specific tasks or errands that would be beneficial. Jot down items as they come to your mind for others to select according to their personal preference. For someone that enjoys cooking, a dinner casserole is easy and often appreciated.
If nothing comes to mind, ask them if you can call them at a future date. Have them write down their name, number and offer in a book or on a list which you can refer to when that need arises. Then call on them at that time. Remember that they offer because they want to help. Allow them the gratification of giving you this gift of love and friendship, a gesture of care and concern.
When we practice gratitude, we can fully enjoy being “in the moment” with our love-ones with an increased awareness of personality traits or capabilities remaining, despite this terrible disease. Rather than becoming emotionally entangled by the sadness of all the things they can no longer do, we can thankfully acknowledge their existing strengths and abilities. Again, we can find something for which to be thankful.
As my dad’s disease has progressed, many of my previous frustrations have now become special reasons for which I am most grateful. When he is trying to tell me something and too many words are missing, I’m grateful for the remaining words. When he starts to walk away without his walker, I’m grateful that he can still walk. When he repeats a story or asks the same question three times in a row, I am grateful that he still wants to talk and share – and that he can. And during those heartbreaking times when he seems so unsure of who I am, as his only child I am happy and grateful that my entire life, he has lovingly referred to me as his “favorite daughter”.