Resilience is defined as “the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties, or toughness.” That is why it is such an important characteristic for caregivers. Caring for a parent with dementia brings daily difficulties and long-term stress and the ability to recover from difficulties is necessary to serve as a caregiver over the course of many years. Having resilience will allow you to navigate the challenges of dementia caregiving.
Our study around the emotional costs of dementia caregiving showed dementia caregivers were seven times more likely to experience physical, emotional and mental exhaustion from their caregiving responsibilities than other types of caregivers. Also, they were three times more likely to feel extreme stress from their caregiving responsibilities. Resilience can enable a caregiver to survive that stress, avoid caregiver burnout, and remain as a caregiver for the long term. Here is how dementia caregivers can build more resilience:
Practice compassion: The power of compassion can help caregivers to be persistent in their care and can give them strength to move through difficult moments. Compassion is a wellspring of renewal. When the going gets tough, practicing the emotion of compassion for the loved one in your care has the power to replace resentment and anger because it fosters understanding.
React less to change: Of course, it is important to respond immediately to health crises and changes that warrant immediate action. However, in the daily life of a caregiver for a loved one with dementia, there can be a roller coaster of changes. The behavior of your loved one is mostly out of your control. Caring for the physical and emotional needs of your loved one brings with it constant change and unpredictability. Reacting less to these constant changes will help you to be more flexible, and that builds resiliency. If you can flow with change instead of becoming anxious and resisting it, you will feel more resilient in the end.
Give yourself positive messages: It’s hard enough to accept that your loved one has an illness that will hasten their decline. Do not add to that difficulty by constantly giving yourself negative messages. Do not raise the bar of expectations for yourself so high that you can never meet it. Some days will be better than others. One day you may be proud that you were able to take the kids to school, get to work and then make dinner for your loved one. Another day it may be enough that you were able to visit your loved one for a half-hour. Whatever you do as a caregiver, accept that it is supportive and helpful for your loved one and give yourself credit.
Remember that this time is a gift: As a caregiver, you are the one who has the gift of spending time with your loved one. It may not seem like that in the rush and noise of a packed daily schedule. However, you are the one who will have memories of this time spent together, the small, funny things your loved one says, and the fact that you were able to see your loved one on a daily basis. Family members who live at a distance will not have those memories. Caregiving is trying and exhausting, but if you remember that you can still be with your loved one and that you have the benefit of spending time with him or her, it can help you to build resilience.
We have some advice on popular misconceptions and challenges of dementia caregiving. In many ways, resilience is an abstract concept. It’s not a muscle that you can see strengthening as you exercise it. However, you will feel resilience growing as you work on it. It will comfort you and give you strength to move through every day as a caregiver for a loved one with dementia.