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Why Caregivers Need Self-Care

Posted on Sep 11, 2017

When Jennifer Tang realized her mother was spiraling into a downward slump of despair she booked an appointment with a Psychiatrist who diagnosed her mother with clinical depression.

“At the beginning, some days I felt hopeless and waited for it to pass” she says.

 It’s been 10 years now that her mother has been depressed. Throughout this time, Jennifer has learned how to cope with her mother’s depression and shift in mood and continues to learn the importance of self-care.

“The Psychiatrist my mother saw recommended her to join an adult day program. It would give her the chance to be around other seniors and socialize”.

 Jennifer’s mother was referred to the Chinese Day Program, one among the 4 offered at Senior Persons Living Connected. Her mother wasn’t initially thrilled about the idea, but after a trial run she became more open to it and the impact has been positive. 

 With a Chinese background, this program allows her mother to feel comfortable and interact in her mother tongue, as English does not come easy to her. It allows her to immerse herself in Chinese music and art. The familiarity brings her comfort.

“It gives my mother something to look forward to and helps to keep a routine in place, which I really think is good for her” Jennifer explains. “There are still some very dark days where she doesn’t want to go out at all, but what’s been important in my own learning curve is that I have to accept that there will be days like that and as her caregiver, I cannot blame myself”.

A lot of time is invested in caring for your loved one and ensuring they are receiving the best care. Jennifer notes that it is just as important to care for herself and make time to do things she enjoys. When she feels stressed out, the calmness of classical music brings her ease as well as maintaining an active lifestyle.

“While my mom is in the Day Program, I take a line dancing class at SPLC in that time slot”. Line dancing allows Jennifer to reclaim her love for moving to upbeat music with her class and relieves the stress that she feels. When she isn’t line dancing, Jennifer takes tai-chi classes. With a strong grasp of the class, she also does tai-chi at home with her mother. “It’s also great that it encourages my mom to use her cognitive skills in memorizing the different movements”.

In addition to home exercises, Jennifer and her mother attend a community centre, where there is a walking ramp and other gentle activities her mother participates in.   

“There are other seniors who come to use the walking ramp and many of them use assistive aids [i.e. canes] like my mother. This makes my mother feel comfortable. She is surrounded by people like her and doesn’t feel embarrassed or self-conscious.”

Living with her mother’s depression for many years, Jennifer has found ways to manage her life and avoid burnout as a caregiver. She has learned the importance of creating a routine for her mother, the significance of integration and the positive impact of socializing and not living in isolation. She’s also learned about self-care and doing things she enjoys that keeps her calm in stressful situations.

Jennifer knows there are many caregivers who are new to looking after their loved ones and learning how to cope with their own emotions and the person they are caring for. She advises caregivers to see a professional (i.e. Psychiatrist) to ensure the best professional advice is given. She also encourages caregivers and their loved ones to live an active lifestyle, within their capabilities. Some people are frailer than others, work within your means and also exercise your mind through cognitive stimulation. Look for programs that will keep your loved one in social settings and join programs that will keep you as a caregiver active and help you to channel your stress in a positive way. Lastly, join a caregiver support group to meet likeminded individuals in a supportive environment.

Take it one day a time and don’t be afraid to reach out to others for help.