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Resilience is a characteristic that helps dementia caregivers bounce back from sadness, exhaustion, and difficulties. It can protect them from developing compassion fatigue and burnout. Psychologists1 define resilience as a person’s ability to recover from hardship. Individuals who are resilient do not allow failure to overwhelm them. Psychologists indicate that those who practice resilience are those who have a positive attitude, optimism, and an ability to control their emotions. These individuals are able to pick themselves up from failure or disappointment and find a way to regroup and move on.
The characteristics of resilience can greatly benefit dementia caregivers who are faced with the daily challenges of watching a loved one decline. Here are five resilience building practices for dementia caregivers.
1. Redefine your circumstances. Caring for a loved one with dementia is exceedingly difficult. As you watch your loved one decline, emotions can range from exhaustion to stress to grief. While slowing the disease is out of your control, you find meaning and purpose in caring for your loved one.
Remind yourself of caregiving duties that give you meaning. You may be the only family member who is available to provide care for your loved one in the time of need. You may be someone that has given your loved one a reason to remain hopeful about the future. For these reasons and many others, find your sense of purpose in a way that you believe to be meaningful.
2. Acceptance builds resilience. You may not have chosen to become a caregiver, but the more you accept your role as a caregiver the better you will feel. However, if you continue to resist the fact that you are caring for your loved one, you may notice your stress levels rising over time. As you accept your role, you may find that your coping skills will improve as you become more engaged in your role.
Adapting to your role is an important part of acceptance. Be as flexible as possible and accept that many things may not be done perfectly. Instead, conduct your caregiving duties so that they are completed well enough to serve their purpose. For example, you may not be able to cook several courses because of time limitations. However, if you can make a nutritious sandwich or cook a healthy soup for the week, that is good enough. Don’t judge yourself. Accept what you can do and give yourself praise for doing it.
3. Maintain your friendships. Healthy relationships will help you reduce stress. Friends and family members are there to support you through difficult times and act as sounding boards for your frustrations.
4. Become a bit rebellious. Live life on your own terms. This may seem counterintuitive if your days are restricted by your loved one’s schedule and need for care. However, if you can change the way you think about what is necessary for your life and change your own expectations you may find it freeing. It’s important to eliminate as many stress-causing factors as possible. These simple steps will help protect you, make you stronger and build resilience.
5. Be playful and believe in serendipity. Maintaining a light spirit whenever possible will help you guard against stress and illness. Whenever possible laugh and look at things in a lighthearted manner. When caring for a loved one the unexpected is always going to happen. Find a way to laugh and ask “What is the worst that can happen now?” As long as a health issue is not involved, you can laugh at most things. For example, make light of small accidents like broken dishes because you can always buy new ones.
Believing in serendipity means that you can turn a bad situation into one that teaches you a life lesson or gives you a gift. Caring for a loved one with dementia requires that skill in order to survive the experience. It could be that you have moments with your loved one that other family members are missing or that you are beside them to witness small moments of clarity and love. As a caregiver, you are the one who has the opportunity to touch your loved one and be with them despite the disease. Acknowledging these things as gifts can help you to build resilience.
Developing resilience will serve you well for a lifetime. When your caregiving responsibilities have come to an end, you will be transformed by your experience. You may be exhausted, but you will be strong and you will find that you carry the gifts of caregiving with you for the rest of your life.