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Beware what your body is saying when caring for someone with dementia

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January 16, 2017, by Pat Morden, Caregiver Exchange


Montrealer Lorrie Beauchamp has been caring for her parents, both of whom have dementia, for the past two years. She lives in an apartment a few minutes away from them and spends most of every weekday with them. Her siblings help out on weekends.

The emotional toll is sometimes staggering, she says. But she has learned several valuable lessons about caregiving, and reflects on them in her lively and compelling blog, www.unforgettable.live.

One of the most important lessons is that her parents read her body language and respond to it. “My mother has difficulty expressing herself and she can’t read anymore,” says Beauchamp, “so we rely very much on gestures and body language. When I walk in and I’m happy, she responds by being happy and relaxed. When I walk in anxious, that’s how she acts too.” Her mother can sense when Beauchamp is really worried, even if she tries to reassure her. Beauchamp has learned the importance of caring for herself, so she can present a genuinely peaceful face to her mother.
 

Other insights from Beauchamp:

  • It’s important to have her own apartment, even though she spends much of her time caring for her parents. “Typical of people with dementia, they are never more than a foot away from me. It’s a bit claustrophobic, so it helps to have my private space.”
  • Support is critical. Beauchamp found support online in the first year and is now beginning to introduce professional caregivers into her parents’ home. “Find support right away,” she advises other caregivers. “There is so much to learn so quickly, and you feel like you’re doing it wrong all the time.”
  • Writing about her experiences is therapeutic. “When I try to put it in context for other people, I realize how much I’ve learned on this journey.”  
  • Emotional exhaustion is very real. “I’ve always prided myself on being hardworking, but I’d come home from my parents’ place utterly exhausted. I started to think I had something seriously wrong with me, or I was just being weak. But it’s real.”
Despite the challenges, Beauchamp says the experience of caregiving has changed her for the better. “What I’ve learned about myself is profound,” she says. “As Baby Boomers, we were all taught to go out and earn, spend, and play. Now I can’t imagine going back to a lifestyle where I’m not helping somebody else. That’s what life is all about.”

Are you about to take on a caregiving role? Do you have questions about what’s involved? Or do you have insights about caring for people with dementia that you’d like to share? Email us – we’d love to talk to you! 
 

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