Emotional Strengthening 1 – Basic Training for the Alzheimer’s Caregiver

Copyright 2006 Mark Matloff

The Importance of Caring for the Caregiver by Mark Matloff, Ph.D.

This article is the first in a series of excerpts from the book “Strength in Caring: Giving Power Back to the Alzheimer’s Caregiver.”

Welcome to basic training. Basic training will introduce you to some very important ideas that you can use to make yourself calmer, more flexible, stronger, and better able to cope with whatever life throws at you. And life throws a lot at a caregiver: much energy and attention goes into making sure that your loved one is safe, calm, clothed, fed, clean, available for doctor’s appointments, comfortable, etc. As the disease progresses, there will be greater demands.

The basic concepts in this chapter will crop up later in more advanced training. You will be able to use them to strengthen yourself even more.

As said earlier, we face two important sets of tasks. One set involves making decisions for and caring for our loved ones. The second set deals with caring for and strengthening ourselves emotionally. Both sets require energy, wisdom, commitment, practice, as well as specific attitudes and behaviors. And both are absolutely necessary.

You may ask, “Why is it important to care for myself emotionally? Shouldn’t this be just about taking care of my loved one? What right do I have to think of myself? Isn’t that selfish? After all, I’m not the one with Alzheimer’s!” The answer: if we burn out our own emotional batteries, we run out of energy to care for others-and then what good are we as caregivers? Not much. We need to learn self-care, as well as the art of R and R (Resting and Recharging).

Remember the Bible story of creation? After working nonstop for six days, even God rested on the seventh. Even God. Why did God rest? Maybe He needed to recharge before going back to work. And if even God needed to rest and recharge, how about us simple humans? How about even you? Think about our modern marvels. A jet engine is a powerful workhorse-but you would not think of constantly running it at full throttle. It would burn out. How about even human, nonmechanical you?

So, the first and perhaps most important point here is that our ability to care for others and our ability to care for ourselves are actually two sides of the same coin. We need to be able to attend to both needs. This makes it incredibly important for us to learn to take care of ourselves. If we can’t keep ourselves in good emotional shape, how can we hope to be there for someone who needs us?

In order to take care of another person we MUST also be able to take care of ourselves.

So, how can we take care of ourselves and be good caregivers as well?

Fortunately, there are many available theories, tools, and techniques we can use to care for ourselves. Some approaches work on dealing with stress in a constructive way. Others deal with ways to strengthen ourselves in general.

In this chapter, we will look at a way to keep stress from taking over our lives-even the extraordinary stress of being a caregiver for a person with Alzheimer’s. One powerful approach to this problem involves understanding how our minds work to create our own personal states of well-being or distress-and then using that knowledge to strengthen our thinking. And that’s the one we will be looking at in this chapter.

Be on the lookout for the next section of this series.