The Presence Care Project helps caregivers reduce stress and improve care
Organizations working with Alzheimer’s disease are developing new programs to assist caregivers. As the number of individuals with the disease continues to grow, so does the number of family members who provide care. They need information and resources to know how to deal with the stress and fatigue of caregiving because:
- 40 percent of dementia caregivers suffer from clinical depression.
- 60 percent of dementia caregivers rate the emotional stress of caregiving as “high” or “very high”.
Mindfulness is rising to the top as an effective answer to reducing the high incidence of depression and stress suffered by caregivers of those with dementia. The Presence Care Project1 promotes the practice of mindfulness while caring for those with dementia. Here is what mindful Alzheimer’s care means and how you can practice it.
What is mindfulness practice?
As caregivers learn mindfulness practice they learn to be aware of the moment at hand, to be in the present and carry on their duties with purpose and without judgment. Mindfulness has specific “pillars” that are practiced to improve daily care for the caregiver and they include the following:
Learning Mindfulness: It takes practice to be mindful of the present moment. The busy schedules of caregivers don’t naturally lend themselves to slowing down to focus on the moment at hand. However, the ability to be in the moment is very effective at reducing stress. When caregivers can practice a heightened level of nonjudgmental awareness of the current caregiving situation it can be calming. For example, rather than rushing through lunch with your loved one because there are two hours of errands and housekeeping ahead, take time to enjoy the lunch. As you taste the food and interact with your loved one you may find that it calms you and begins to reduce the stress of a busy day.
Integrative Understanding: This involves two models of care that include the biomedical and the experiential. The biomedical model helps caregivers learn what they need to effectively “advocate, care and plan for the people in their care”. The experiential model helps caregivers to communicate effectively and deal with the behaviors caused by dementia. Acquiring new knowledge about dementia is part of the biomedical model. It can make it easier to understand how a loved one is behaving and how to cope with it. Knowledge can bring structure to what was previously a puzzling, and sometimes highly emotional, equation. The experiential model empowers the caregiver and gives him or her the tools necessary to handle the changing behaviors that are part of Alzheimer’s.
Community support: This is the third pillar of mindfulness care. It encourages caregivers to find partners and a team to help them with their caregiving duties. Team members can be friends, family members, health care providers or resources in the community. The important thing is for caregivers not remain alone in their duties.
Mindfulness-based care has many benefits
The Presence Care Project says that mindfulness-based care has many benefits for caregivers. It can reduce stress and anxiety and can help to remove high emotional levels from the caregiving equation. By practicing mindfulness, a caregiver begins to look at the behaviors of their loved one as rooted in real needs that can be assessed and cared for, rather than a confusing jigsaw puzzle of unexplained behaviors.
Being in the moment can allow the caregiver to fully feel the emotions of the experience. Some may be negative emotions such as grief. Others may be positive emotions such as appreciating the opportunity to be with a loved one and intimately care for them at a time when they most need it. As dementia changes the loved one’s personality, the ability to be present in the moment can help the caregiver to accept the emerging aspects of the disease and understand them.
Ways to practice mindfulness
The Presence Care Project recommends the following tips to practice mindfulness in your daily caregiving duties:
- Start your day by practicing mindfulness by enjoying the following activities: meditation, yoga and walking.
- Incorporate mindfulness into your daily routines. While walking smell the air and look at the sky. Rather than being preoccupied with what you have to do in the next hour, fully realize where you are in the moment.
- Learn to recognize your emotions. Feel them fully and do not brush them aside. This helps to process them rather than letting them build up and turn into stress.
- Practice loving yourself, as well as the, loved one in your care. Be kind to yourself.
- Express your emotions through writing or art.
- Share your caregiving experience with others, the joys and the frustrations.
- Ask others to help you with caregiving responsibilities.
Learning mindfulness care can create more positive care experiences for the caregiver and the person with dementia. It can reduce stress and help avoid compassion fatigue and burnout. It can also improve care and give caregivers memories that will last a lifetime by transforming the caregiving experience from a negative one to a positive one.