When caring for an elderly loved one, navigating feelings of stress, guilt and exhaustion can be common. Judy Thomas of Louisville helps care for two loved ones who are residents at Nazareth Home, including her husband’s aunt and the mother of a friend who lives out-of-state.
We caught up with Judy to inquire about some of the challenges she experiences, the ways she tries to overcome them, and how Nazareth Home has helped in her role as a caregiver.
How do you go about dealing with the burnout, stress and exhaustion that may come with caring for someone with Alzheimer’s or other dementia?
Judy Thomas: For years, I have started each day by going on a long morning walk with the dogs. Sometimes, the walks are simply quiet times to relax and enjoy being outside. Other times, they provide me with the opportunity to problem solve.
I am a lover of the outdoors. Whether it’s working in the yard or hiking at Bernheim Forest, nothing does more to soothe my soul.
Close friends — who have themselves been caregivers — offer me a lot of support. With them, I feel safe expressing that sense of being overwhelmed. Often, they offer me helpful suggestions for dealing with issues. Sharing meals and a glass of wine with them makes everything seem more manageable!
Having time to do the things I want to do for and with my immediate family and friends is often challenging. I have found that I must, at times, give myself permission to allocate that time. I am usually a better caregiver having done so.
I read a quote once that said, “Good humor makes all things tolerable.” So true! It’s okay to share a laugh about something your loved one has said or done or, for that matter, something I have said or done in my exhaustion!
Do you ever deal with feelings of guilt when it comes to caring for your loved ones?
Judy Thomas: Increased guilt is very much a part of my life. At Nazareth Home, I know they are receiving the best care possible. Their physical and many social-emotional needs are being met. But my involvement has changed over the years. Initially, it meant weekly visits, trips to the doctor, an occasional outing. My husband’s aunt is fully involved in all activities at Charity Court (Nazareth Home’s Memory Care neighborhood, located at the Highlands Campus). She would be just fine with phone calls, weekly visits and an occasional outing. There have been times when she told me she didn’t have time to visit because she was too involved in an activity. I loved that!
I feel more pressure now to provide emotional support for my friend’s mother. Her quality of life has greatly diminished in the last year. She is no longer able to express herself. With her, I feel as though I should be spending increased periods of time. As I spend more time with her, I experience feelings of guilt over not spending enough time with my family and friends. It is difficult to strike a balance.
How have your priorities shifted since becoming a caregiver?
Judy Thomas: My own parents and older relatives have been gone for a number of years. When I retired, I thought I would have time to do all the things I never had time to do when I worked. Responsibilities as a caregiver have changed those plans. There have been occasions when I have been resentful, but I love these women and that has helped. My priorities have shifted and, most days, that’s okay.
There is definite uncertainty in knowing what each day will bring. For fear of missing a call from Nazareth Home, the cell phone is always on and with me. If someone is not doing well, I hesitate to go on even short day trips out of town. I hesitate to commit to vacations with friends and, when I do go, I limit the number of days gone.
How do you receive the support you need?
Judy Thomas: I have a few close friends who understand the responsibilities and concerns I am experiencing. They are individuals who have also been caregivers. With them, I can share my feelings. Other friends don’t understand why I am sometimes just too tired to meet them for lunch or go away for a few days, and that can add to the stress I am already experiencing.
What helpful suggestions do you have for others who are supporting loved ones with Alzheimer’s or other dementia?
Judy Thomas: Try to make the time you spend with your loved one enjoyable for both of you. Nazareth Home is taking care of their physical and many social-emotional needs. When I go, I hope to be the “bright spot” in their day. I want the visit to feel like any other visit with a good friend. I want them to know I look forward to seeing them and enjoy spending time there. I know them well enough to know what they enjoy and, when I am there, I try to share in those activities. Looking through old picture albums is always a favorite. With the iPad, we can now enjoy videos as well. We love courtyard visits. We laugh a lot. Both of “my girls” love dogs. Having that furry friend there provides nothing but love and acceptance without saying a word.
It’s okay to take time for yourself. You will find yourself a better caregiver because of it. When feeling overwhelmed, allow yourself to ask for help. Women, especially, are prone to thinking we are the only ones who can. Even if there is no one else who can help you manage the responsibilities you face with a loved one, there may be other ways they can lighten your load.
Finally, having both of my ladies at Nazareth Home has lightened my load immensely, and I will be forever grateful.
To learn more about the care provided at Nazareth Home, visit nazhome.org.