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Caring for yourself while caring for a person living with dementia

Caring for yourself while caring for a person living with dementia

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Q: How can I take care of myself while caring for a person living with dementia?


Contributed by Kim Wilson, MSW, LCSW from the Memory Counseling Program at Baptist Health

Answer: Perhaps you’ve heard: “Taking care of yourself is an essential part of taking care of others. The healthier the tree, the better the fruit it can offer.” While this is true, it may seem insensitive and downright exhausting when others tell you to “take care of yourself.” There is lots of advice for putting yourself first: make exercise a priority, eat healthy foods, spend time with friends, ask others for help… These are activities no one has to tell you will make you feel better. You already know that. My guess is, you’d be doing it already if you could.

So the real question is, “How do I take care of my emotional well-being when there is time for nothing else?” What can I do to foster wellness when I feel like I’m treading water, faced with the long term task of caring for someone dependent on me every moment of the day? The good news is that there are three things we always hold inside of us that can be of great use during impossibly difficult times: Grace, forgiveness and gifts.

  • Grace in caring for yourself: Do what you know you CAN do, and give yourself grace for what you can’t. Grace is a favor you can bestow upon yourself when society is telling you to do more for self-care but your resources of time and energy are already exhausted. So you can’t get up at 6 a.m. to go for a walk because you were kept awake all night. What CAN you do? Try taking deep belly breaths for five minutes while still in bed, breathing in peace and calm, breathing out tension and anxiety. This will help to reset any anxious thoughts you may have, anticipating the day. Offer up gratitude, say a prayer, think about something or someone that brings you joy, and don’t beat yourself up for not doing more.
  • Forgiveness in caring for others: Know your strengths and forgive your shortcomings. Forgiveness is a lovely gift to give to yourself when you feel like you’re failing at your job. Are you feeling guilty for not doing enough for your care partner or doing it well enough? Did you lose your temper or find a short cut? Focus on what you’re doing well, and find peace in knowing you are doing the best you can in the circumstances you’ve been given. Imagine meeting your future self and hearing her/him say “Wow — that was a really hard time for you. You did amazing work while under intense pressure!”
  • Gifts you give to the world: Recognize what you have to give to others, and use it. Your world can become very small while you’re home caring for someone, but you still have a lot to offer others, and that’s important to remember. Give the gift of vulnerability. Give the gift of humor. Give the gift of problem-solving. Whatever your gift is, you are probably using it even when you don’t realize it. Practice being aware of the times you have something to offer others that is uniquely yours to give. We often find the most fulfillment in life when we are using our gifts.

Caregiver burden can weigh you down, but guilt and shame can sink you. Managing and decreasing negative feelings can drastically improve your quality of life and even pave the way for hope. So the next time someone says, “take care of yourself,” go to that happy place in your head and say, “I’m doing that right now.”

To learn more about Emotional Wellbeing for Care Partners, join Kim Wilson, MSW, LCSW from the Memory Counseling Program at Baptist Health for a one hour workshop.

When: Wednesday, Jan. 8; 10-11 a.m.

Where: Shepherd’s Center of Winston Salem

1700 Ebert St, Winston Salem

Q: We have a wood-burning fireplace. How often should it be cleaned?


Answer: Wood burning fireplaces should be cleaned annually by a licensed and bonded professional chimney sweep. This professional will also check the integrity of the firebox, flue, dampe, and chimney structure during the cleaning and inspection process. Ideally, this inspection should occur before the use of the fireplace. Additionally, here are some safety points to remember when using the fireplace for supplemental warming or entertaining:

  • Keep combustibles materials such as paper, cloth and plastic a minimum of three feet away from the fireplace.
  • When cleaning out the firebox, discard all ash and materials in a metal container with a tight-fitting lid.
  • Do not store the metal container with contents on or near combustible surfaces such as wood decks, under decks on natural areas, against vinyl siding, etc.
  • Install a rated fire screen or glass to prevent sparks from entering the adjacent area outside the firebox.
  • The United States Fire Administration suggests strongly that you put out the fire in the fireplace before retiring for the night or leaving home.
  • Check that your smoke alarms are in proper working order.
  • Install a carbon monoxide alarm and be sure to change the batteries in the carbon monoxide alarm annually.

If you have additional safety questions, you may contact the fire marshal’s office at 336-703-2550.

AgeWise is a weekly column compiled by staff of Senior Services Inc., a nonprofit organization in Winston-Salem. If you have a question, email or mail to Senior Services, 2895 Shorefair Drive, Winston-Salem, NC 27105.

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