Caring for a family member or friend who has dementia is a stressful journey. It impacts your health, emotional well-being, and finances. And, it may go on for many years.
Based on more than 40 years of research and clinical experience, and her book Loving Someone Who Has Dementia, Dr. Pauline Boss recommends that taking these 7 steps in your caregiving journey will help you find more meaning in your work, and more hope for your personal future.
Finding meaning in any situation requires that you understand what is going on.
As a family caregiver, understanding what is going on can be very difficult because the person you are caring for is simultaneously both physically present and psychologically gone. It is difficult to make sense of this ambiguously confusing experience.
That confusion may leave you feeling alone and hopeless unless you learn to accept “both-and” thinking. While recognizing that your loved one is psychologically absent, you nonetheless recognize the meaning in caring for them. And you also recognize that you can have hope for your personal future.
By learning to accept “both-and” thinking, you can find balance for your life and take control through acceptance.
Dr. Boss points out that waiting passively for things to get better, instead of actively coping, often leads to depression. As opposed to passively waiting, you need to stay socially connected and avoid isolation.
When you gain balance and control you feel better about who you are and can become. You can broaden your Identity.
You need to see yourself as more than just a caregiver. Despite the fact that you frequently have mixed emotions, you need to pursue your personal interests and stay socially connected.
Having mixed emotions such as love and sorrow and joy and anger is typical for caregivers. But, as Dr. Boss points out, you can and must manage them. To do that, share your conflicting emotions with a professional therapist, or in a support group, or with an understanding friend.
Remember that ambiguous loss (a loss that is unclear, has no resolution and no predictable ending or closure) leads to having mixed feelings and contradictory ideas. But you can learn to manage them.
While you hold on to your loved one by touching, talking to and visiting with them, you also need to let go. Dr. Boss suggests that you may even want to take a vacation. At a minimum, make some new friends and do new and pleasurable things with them.
Get excited about something that you actually hope to achieve. Be realistic but imagine new options for doing something that will make you happy. Then, pursue them!
Get in touch with your personal feelings and seek help when and where you need to.
If you feel depressed and hopeless to the extent that you no longer go out seek help from your physician or a licensed therapist.
If you are feeling sad and lonely, join a social or caregiver support group. Learn how other people in similar caregiving situations cope with their stress and grief.
In concluding the book Loving Someone Who Has Dementia, Dr. Boss states that “The goal is not to regain your independence but rather to stay resilient and healthy in a relationship that is now less than perfect, with a loved one physically present but psychologically absent.”
Throughout this book she encourages family caregivers to stay connected with others as a way to manage their stress. She writes that “Human connection is necessary for health.”
Incorporating these practices into your hectic and unpredictable life is challenging. That’s where joining in a Finding Meaning and Hope virtual workshop can help you find meaning in your stressful caregiving work and hope for a better and brighter personal future.
In addition to workshops, Meaning & Hope Institute provides virtual discussion and support groups for dementia family caregivers.
Our work is based on the well researched and proven strategies for managing the ongoing stress and grief that results from experiencing the “ambiguous loss” of having a loved one both here and not here.