What is the one thing that caregivers should keep in mind? Yes, I am back with one more one thing,
The one thing that caregivers should keep in mind is that you will mess up.
I’ve written about this before.
You do something, and you will mess up. There are minor failures, moderate failures, and sometimes you just have a giant crash-and-burn failure.
You aren’t a massive failure of course. You can massively fail repeatedly and not be a failure.
In fact, I can think of about 3 things I have already failed on today…I said the wrong thing to a student. She interpreted my words in a way that I didn’t intend, and I think I hurt her self-confidence (but I rephrased and recovered). I also spilled a whole mug of coffee on my jeans at the Dementia Simulation House. Then I realized there was a typo on my syllabus—although that’s actually a mistake I made in August.
Messing up and failing are part of life. As my high school basketball coach said to us, “If you’re not making mistakes, you are probably not doing much of anything.”
Caregiving can be a lot of things. It can be rewarding and joyful. Of course, it can be challenging and exhausting. And all those feelings might hit at the same time. It’s a lot. It’s just a lot.
Your stress level makes it more likely that you will make mistakes. As you may have heard me say in presentations, “When anxiety goes up, cognition goes down.”
I usually say that in reference to individuals living with dementia, but it’s true for all of us, including dementia caregivers.
You are stressed. You don’t sleep a lot. Your brain is tired and not top-notch. You mess up more. That’s the way life works.
Maybe you made a poor judgment call. You took Dad to the emergency room when, in the end, the doctor said he was just a bit constipated. Dad was embarrassed and anxious about being there. When you got home, he was agitated and aggressive. You are kicking yourself for taking him to the emergency room, and he’s mad at you because he has to pay the bill.
We do the best we can in the moment. We might get impatient and snap at someone who has dementia. It’s hard when someone asks the same question 11 times in 2 minutes. Then you feel guilty.
Take a deep breath move on.
We mess up at our jobs and while doing our hobbies. We mess up doing tasks like laundry (throwing in clothes with colors might bleed into other clothing; that’s my specialty). We mess up in our social relationships. We say the wrong thing. We make the wrong decision. We mess up.
Caregiving is no difference. You will mess up. And you will move on.
You weren’t looking and your diabetic husband who has Alzheimer’s ate an entire cake. It was a cake you made for an upcoming bridal shower. Now he’s sick and you have to make another cake. (This happened recently to someone I know, and she ended up buying a cake but passing it off as homemade, which makes her my kind of woman.)
You invite some friends over. They bring their grandkids. Your mom used to love these kids, but now it’s just too much for her. She’s getting irritable and they won’t leave. You want to suggest it’s time for them to go, but you feel that’s rude, so you let them hang out until 9 although Mom usually goes to bed at 8. She struggles the next day. She’s exhausted. And you think about how it’s your fault.
I know a woman who made mistake by jumping out of the car to pump gas. Her husband has Frontotemporal dementia and recently gave up his driver’s license. As they pulled up by the pump, she assumed she’d be the one to get gas because now she was the driver, and he wasn’t moving so fast most days. He jumped out of the car and started yelling at her. It was his job to pump gas. How dare she think he was so disabled that he couldn’t pump gas, like he had done his entire life. He didn’t talk to her the rest of the day.
When I talk to caregivers, they often express guilt or shame over something that they believe they messed up.
Is it any different from parenting in this way? Every parent messes up. (I am not a parent but I think most parents would agree with that, right?). There are not perfect parents.
There are no perfect caregivers.
Shake it off and move on.