If you care for a parent with dementia, you probably find it hard to find time to take care of yourself. Pressures to make sure that your loved one is safe, that she’s engaged, and that all her needs are met likely trump your own needs. Add to that kids to raise, relationships to nurture, and a full-time job to maintain, and you have a recipe for burnout.
Recently we got a question from a caregiver on our Facebook page who’s facing this situation. The caregiver’s mom was evicted from two senior-living facilities this year because the facilities couldn’t handle Mom’s behaviors, and just as the caregiver got Mom situated in a capable and dementia-specific facility, Mom’s birthday and the holidays popped up, along with more pressure.

“There was more searching, guilt, loneliness, and misery in the process than I can express,” the caregiver writes. “Now it’s been almost four months, but I’m still emotionally spent. So I’ve been thinking of taking a vacation around Christmas to rest myself and clear my head. But I got this message this morning: 'I know you <expletived> me over on my birthday, but if you <expletive> me over on Christmas, I’ll kill you.' I get that she must be miserable and lonely. But am I wrong to feel that I still need time to heal myself?”

What Other Caregivers Say
Supportive responses flooded in from our Facebook community:
“Stay strong, please! Thanks for sharing your feelings. One needs to be healthy and happy to be able to help others. Take care of your life.”
“Embrace the good and bad day in dementia care. And don’t forget to pray and take care of yourself!!!”
“As a caregiver in an assisted living memory care unit, I see the stages and changes of dementia/Alzheimer’s. Your mother’s behavior is not uncommon and she is not aware she is doing so. Please take comfort in knowing that she is being taken care of and please take care of yourself as well. There are a lot of activities and holiday doings that are provided (well, in my facility) that keep them occupied. I watch the families of these loved ones go through such an emotional roller coaster and my heart goes out to you. I hope I haven’t offended, only wanting you to know that you need time to take care of yourself as well, and your mom is being taken care of. God bless.”
“You, the caregiver are important but... So is Mom. Can you schedule vacay just before or just after the holidays? If Mom is with it enough right now to know the difference you may someday regret having missed her last aware Christmas or whatever your family celebrates.”
“If you are reeling, surely your mother is too. Change is difficult for all of us, but especially when emotions run high. You have a third partner here, and its name is Dementia. Filters are compromised, behavior changes. Try to breathe and center yourself, get some help if you need it (someone to talk to and process all your transitions), then hopefully you'll be able to step into the relationship with your mother and gently bloom into a new level of relationship.”
“My situation isn't QUITE as bad, but you need and must take time for yourself. If you're all she has, who'll watch out for her if you're sick? I felt like I was abandoning my mother if I took some ‘time off’ (she's in a dementia care home), but when I have, not only does she barely realize I'm gone but she seems better for it! I think they settle in better if we're not around all the time. But regardless, I'm better for it!!”
Read more comments.
So How Can You De-Stress?
The best advice for caregivers emphasizes how important it is that you take care of yourself. But how exactly do you do that when there are so many demands on your time and energy?
Agingcare.com has 10 tips for taking a break and coming home refreshed. The first step is recognizing that you deserve a break, and that the person you care for will be better helped when you’re rested and healthy. Make your plans for a getaway, then stock up on staples and medications for your loved one and coordinate with friends, family, home care agencies, and/or you loved one’s care facility so that things will be in place during your absence.
Day-to-Day Coping

In Running on Empty: Compassion Fatigue in Health Professionals [PDF], Françoise Mathieu, M.Ed., CCC, recommends developing a prevention toolkit, which can be helpful for family caregivers too. Start by asking yourself these questions:
  • What are my warning signs? On a scale of 1 to 10, what’s a 4 for me? What’s a 9?
  • What things do I have control over?
  • What things do I not have control over?
  • What stress-relief strategies do I enjoy? (Taking a bath, sleeping, going for a massage)
  • What stress-reduction strategies work for me? (What can I cut back on that will relieve some pressure?)
  • What stress-resiliency strategies can I use? (Meditation, yoga, breathing exercises)

Mathieu recommends finding a balance between the nourishing and depleting aspects of your life, and making time for exercise, hobbies, and personal debriefing.

What are your coping strategies? Please share them in the comments below, or join the discussion on Facebook.