Spending time with family can be deeply enjoyable and rewarding. But for caregivers who may devote a majority of their free time or even the whole day toward the care of family members, there could be some extra challenges to face.
November is National Family Caregivers Month, and mental health professionals and caregivers give tips on how to get the most out of tending to their loved ones, and how to overcome any hurdles along the way that could impair mental health.
Frank Fuerst, the author of “Alzheimer’s Care with Dignity,” was the caregiver for his wife June for 17 years. He said in an email that she had early onset Alzheimer’s disease at around 40 years old. He experienced both positive and negative emotions associated with the caregiving.
Initially, Fuerst suffered from some depression while he searched for an accurate diagnosis for his wife, and also when he first became a caregiver, since new obstacles seemed to form every week. Doctors thought his wife had depression or menopause symptoms, but this was not the case.
“As I gradually learned to overcome my emotions, found solutions to challenges, and began to have successes as a caregiver, my confidence soared,” Fuerst said.
He believes his experience as a caregiver changed his life for the better, allowing him to fully develop as a person and become gentler and kinder.
HE found ways to cope with negative emotions as a caregiver. He turned to spirituality. He went to support groups to avoid isolation, to laugh and share stories and emotions. He turned to respite care for extra help. And he developed a “care with dignity” philosophy.
“I could not develop a caregiving philosophy that I could be proud of until I stopped thinking about Alzheimer's from my view and started thinking about it from June's view,” Fuerst said. “I wrote ideas on how I imagined she would want to be treated if she could fully communicate.”
Erena DiGonis, a licensed psychotherapist and certified health coach, said in an email that she has been the caregiver to her sister for 20 years with her mother’s help.