Helpful tips for family caregivers
Lift your spirits and learn tips to make caregiving easier.
- Making the best use of your time off
- Strategies to address urinary incontinence
- When your loved one is depressed, suggest exercise
Making the best use of your time off
Time off from caregiving is precious. But after a break, many family caregivers find they don’t feel as refreshed as they hoped they would.
New research provides insights about how to get the most from a respite break.
Common respite mistakes
- Unplanned time. It may sound good to “have no plans.” But that can backfire if you end up simply watching TV. You may feel you “wasted” your time.
- Routine tasks. Doubtless, there are chores and tasks to be done. If completing a task will genuinely feel satisfying, great. But you may feel cheated if you use your respite to do “more of the same.”
- Obligations. Watch out for self-imposed “shoulds.” Such as, “I should go see my niece in that play.” If theater is not your thing, you’ll end up frustrated instead of rejuvenated.
Tips for respite satisfaction
- Reconnect with favorite activities. What have you found pleasant or meaningful in the past? Use time off to resume those activities. Or look for new activities you enjoy. The point is to restore your sense of self.
- Address what’s critical. Your physical health and mental health are essential. Follow through with doctor appointments. Meet with a support group or counselor for help with emotional distress.
- Improve on the basics. If you must do routine tasks, find ways to make them more fun. Perhaps you and a friend can team up on house cleaning. Or carpool to grocery shopping (coffee anyone?).
- Get more from work time. Work is time away from caregiving. Try to weave in personally fulfilling activities. For example, have lunch with friends regularly. Or schedule exercise, or lessons, directly before or after work.
Don’t wait until you’re feeling burned out to take time off. You and your loved one will fare much better if you get frequent, regular, and satisfying breaks.Return to top
Strategies to address urinary incontinence
Last month we talked about how to bring up the subject of urinary incontinence with your relative. Incontinence isn’t a fact of late life. It’s a medical issue. And it’s important to learn why it’s occurring and what can help.
Schedule a doctor’s appointment.
- Suggest your family member keep a bladder journal. It’s often easier to hand over a record of symptoms than to say them out loud.
- If necessary, contact the doctor separately to report symptoms.
The doctor can determine the type of incontinence. The most common are:
- Stress incontinence. When a sneeze, a cough, or laughter puts pressure on the bladder.
- Urgency incontinence. When the thought of urinating sparks an urgent need to get to the bathroom.
- Mixed incontinence. Features of both stress and urgency incontinence.
Expect the doctor to recommend one or more home-based treatments. “Behavioral” strategies are considered the most appropriate. They are more effective than medication. Behavioral treatments include
- pelvic muscle training. Known as “Kegel” exercises. These strengthen the muscles that control bladder release. During examination, have the doctor pinpoint which muscles to exercise.
- bladder training. Urinating on a schedule and using self-talk and muscle control to avoid leakage.
- urge suppression. Remaining calm and not reacting to the urge. Instead, using muscle contraction to ride out an urge until it passes.
- fluid intake management. Reducing caffeine intake. Potentially ending fluid intake after 6 pm to reduce nighttime problems (but still drinking six to eight glasses of fluid each day).
Make sure your relative clarifies his or her goal with the doctor. If behavioral strategies don’t produce livable results, ask about medications and other nonsurgical remedies.
If your relative has memory loss or dementia
- take him or her to the bathroom frequently, as in every two hours.
- watch for constipation, which puts pressure on the bladder.
When your loved one is depressed, suggest exercise
Depression is common in older adults.
It’s long been known that brisk exercise can help reduce depression. But it turns out that exercise doesn’t have to be vigorous to make a difference. Even mild exercise can be effective. This is great news, especially since depression zaps energy and initiative. Researchers have found that
- completing an exercise task yields a sense of achievement
- achievement boosts our sense of personal power
- increased self-confidence reduces feelings of depression and fatigue
In this case, the purpose of exercise isn’t to increase heart rate. It’s to accomplish an activity-related goal. Because when we’ve achieved something, we talk more kindly to ourselves about ourselves. As our self-talk gets more positive, that lifts our mood.
Help your relative create an activity program that suits their physical capacity. Ideally, something that can be done easily three to five times a week, eventually building up to a total of 30 minutes over the course of the day.
It doesn’t have to be strenuous: Simple stretches. Lifting light weights. An easy stroll around the block. If they are up for something more engaging—a class or walking with a buddy—all the better. They are more likely to stick with it if they have a pal. And the social contact will also help lift their depression.
Check in with the doctor first to be sure there are no foreseeable problems.Return to top