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What is the caregiving phase of “new understanding?”
The next caregiving phase, “new understanding,” compares to arriving at the destination, i.e., an Alzheimer’s diagnosis and journey, in which the caregiver experiences a kind of enlightenment, surprised by his or her growing insights and abilities to transcend the extraordinary challenges and barriers of the situation.
Through the caregiver’s struggle, education, support and attention to his or her needs, there is on the horizon a healing and readjustment to life; a new normal, so to speak. The caregiver sets new priorities, gauges expectations, observes boundaries and begins to try to make peace with all the aspects of his or her role. Additionally, there are countless opportunities for caregivers to deepen the bond and form connections with their loved ones through compassionate and patient care. Oftentimes, too, the difficulties may seem to outweigh the rewards; however, caregivers should always acknowledge all the tasks and responsibilities they perform, even on the toughest days when nothing is going right. The proverbial “pat on the back” should be a continual practice for the caregiver prior to going to bed at night.
The caregiver is now seeing the value he or he is providing and realizes the importance of self-care. This phase of new understanding has brought the caregiver not only to recognize his or her own needs but also to a point of newfound confidence and assertion in the routine of caregiving. He or she has gotten the “language of dementia” pretty much down and knows tips and strategies to put in place in managing communication and behavioral expressions. Caregivers learn to trust their intuition and decisions more and feel more comfortable with them. Discussions surrounding long-term care options for his or her loved one may begin to develop during this time and caregivers feel assured and confident about those next steps because of all the preparations already made and the knowledge gained about the disease, in addition to the resources and support received, throughout the journey.
Changing perspectives of the caregiver also arise in this new understanding. Amid the challenges and the thankless job of caregiving, there can be moments of joy and life-affirming rewards. The very act of caring for an individual with Alzheimer’s disease connects the caregiver-care receiver on a deeper level and oftentimes can help resolve differences and build a stronger relationship. There grows a sense of greater appreciation of life; priorities change, and caregivers focus more on things that offer more meaning in their lives and those of their loved ones. Moreover, the caregiver feels needed and valued in taking care of his or her loved one and gaining greater knowledge and skills in the Alzheimer’s journey can improve the caregiver’s problem-solving skills as well as boosting confidence. And participation in support groups can reduce the isolation felt by caregivers, as well as allowing them to form new and rewarding relationships. When caregivers identify more beneficial components of their roles instead of unfavorable ones, they experience less burden, better health and relationships and greater social support. (Geriatric Psychiatry: 2002)
Questions about Alzheimer’s Disease or related disorders can be sent to Dana Territo, author of the upcoming book “What My Grandchildren Taught Me About Alzheimer’s Disease,” at [email protected].