The New Year is always a time of reflection and anticipation, met with excitement and promise. It’s a time to start fresh, with an unmarked calendar, the blank pages like a fallen snow. And, if you’re a caregiver for an aging loved one, this can be a year of exciting changes—for both of you.
While your life may not instantly or dramatically evolve come January 1st, you can begin to make small shifts in the way you approach the hard, loving work of being a caregiver for an elderly loved one. We understand the immense challenges, both mental and physical, that such a role brings. We understand that it is a job undertaken with love, but one that can bring an incredible amount of stress, guilt, and emotional turmoil.
We also understand that it is one of the bravest and most selfless things you can do. By acting as a caregiver, you help your loved one age at home, with independence and dignity, letting them live the life they deserve. That’s why we feel this New Year can be a chance for you to reorient yourself, take care of yourself and your loved one, and bravely and lovingly face the year together.
These are resolutions for you. They are resolutions that will help you provide the best possible care for your loved one. They are resolutions that let love and compassion flourish.
10 Resolutions for Caregivers
- I will eat right. Caregiving can be both very stressful and extremely time-consuming. Too often, we find ourselves eating quickly, grabbing something junky, or eating on the run. Not this year. You should resolve to eat as healthily as possible, making meals when you can, and taking the time to sit down and eat them. This also means eating foods that reduce stress, like carbohydrates (which release serotonin), fruits, and vegetables. Keeping your immune system strong keeps you healthier and more able to fulfill your role as caregiver, further lowering your stress levels.
- I will sleep well. Sleep deprivation can lead to sickness, heart disease, diabetes, and a whole host of other ailments. When you’re tired, you tend to be crankier and less helpful, which can start an emotional roller coaster. Caregiving often means odd hours but, this year, make sure you schedule time to really sleep. Taking natural substances like melatonin can be a way to relax your mind and your body, so that you can freshly meet the challenges and the promises of the next day.
- I will find new hobbies. There are a lot of hobbies that can reduce stress, like knitting, journaling, or reading, that you can do while caregiving. But hobbies don’t have to revolve around that aspect of your life, either. It’s important to find interests that don’t incorporate your caregiving duties, like dancing or making music. Find something that interests you, and pursue it—it’s important for your mental health to have focuses other than caregiving and the assorted stresses of life.
- I will join a support group. You may feel frazzled, guilty, resentful, and at the end of your rope. You may feel all alone. You aren’t. Everyone caregiving for an older adult, especially a loved one, sometimes feels this way. And they’re out there to talk to. There are many support groups in the Bay Area, some general and some caregivers dealing with specific issues, like Alzheimer’s. There you’ll find people to talk with, to share and receive advice, to laugh and cry—and just to listen to you. If you don’t feel as comfortable opening up in person, there are also many online groups. Remember that you are never alone.
- I will find help from outside sources. Sometimes, true courage comes in admitting what we can’t do. Caregiving can damage your relationship with your loved one, eat away at your time, and frustrate you about your own life. Maybe you are realizing you can’t do it all on your own, and there’s nothing wrong with that. This is the year to ask family members to chip in more, even if it’s helping to fill in parts of your own life that you’re neglecting. Or, maybe this is the year where you find responsible and trustworthy professional help, for whatever amount of time you need. Either way, this is the year you decide to take the next step.
- I will work to expand the universe of my loved one. Much of the time, we feel that home care means staying at home. It doesn’t have to. Depending on your loved one’s mobility, you can incorporate outside activities like hiking (including wheelchair trails), volunteering, social gatherings, or day programs. And, maybe even graffiti. By involving them in community activities, where they can meet people and establish a routine, you’re helping them battle depression and mental illness. This is great for you as the caregiver as well. You’re getting outside. You’re finding new things to do. Potentially, some of these can free up your time, allowing you to relax. And you’ll also feel empowered by helping your love explore life’s possibilities, regardless of their age.
- I won’t bottle up my feelings. Sometimes you feel angry, sometimes you feel sad. Sometimes you feel like you can’t do this, but, too often, you feel like you can’t say anything. You feel like telling someone you don’t want to do this anymore will make them think you’re terrible. You might even think you’re terrible. You’re not, and bottling those feelings up, not telling anyone, and maybe trying to not even tell yourself, is emotionally damaging. Know that people will understand. Finding someone to talk to, whether that is a group, a therapist, or just another loved one, let’s you explore and understand your feelings.That’s the first step to working through them.
- I will accept that resentment is natural. You deeply love the person for whom you’re caring, but that doesn’t mean you don’t sometimes feel resentful. When we feel that way, we too often think it’s wrong, or ungrateful, or cruel. But it isn’t: it’s normal. Accept that you will have these feelings, and that they don’t make you a bad person (indeed, they just make you a person). Vow, this year, not to feel guilty about resentment, but to explore it—and use the steps here to reduce or eliminate it.
- I will work harder to practice radical empathy. Many times, when we’re caught up in the frustrations, difficulties, irritations, and even perceived indignities of caregiving, we can see our loved one as a chore. That doesn’t mean we don’t love them, but that we forget what they are going through, their struggles or fears or pain. This year, resolve to always keep in mind their unique battles. Doing so will help you reflect upon your own important, loving, and vital role.
- I will celebrate every day. You are undertaking this amazing and brave role because you love the person you’re caring for. Every day you see them is a day you get to spend time with an important person in your life. It’s a chance to make their life better. It’s a chance to let them live with dignity, to find the enjoyment in aging. It’s a chance to expand your horizons, to explore new things, and to learn more about yourself. It’s a chance to look at the dawning sky and reach for it.
This is the time of year where people take stock of the big, and little, things in life. They reflect, and they move forward. They look at mistakes that were made and steel themselves to not make them again; they look at possibilities to come and resolve to embrace them. People are ready to make a better year, and a better life. As a caregiver, you can prepare to make that better life for you and your loved ones.
This is the year to take time for yourself, get the help you need, understand your emotions, and provide the best possible care for your loved one. It’s your year. It starts now.
At Institute on Aging, we know that the challenges caregivers face can seem overwhelming. We’re here to help. Connect with us today to learn more about our programs.