Alzheimer’s “Taking a Break” for Care Giving Spouse


How to go about taking a break from care giving for spouses and family…giving the Alzheimer’s senior a safe resting spot and a break from building stress at home. by francy Dickinson

It takes a family to give care to a senior and keep their spouse/care giver a break!

It takes a family to give care to a senior and keep their spouse/care giver rested !

Dear Francy; My dad called and he is giving up on care giving for mom. He has had a cold for two months, is tired, frustrated and just feels she needs more care than he can give. I don’t think its time, yet. Even though her dementia is nutty; she is still able to carry on a conversation, do personal chores when guided and even cooks once a day. How can I get this situation ironed out? I just need to have direction. Thank you, Katy

Katy I get it! I gave myself a mini break today. So I understand the worry and the stress and the need to just throw up your hands and make it go away. Your Dad is the best…how caring he is to give her care in the first place. Here are some ideas to guide you:


  1. Mini breaks; are days that the care giver does very little for the senior. It can be done with a day of giving the senior a chance to see how their skill level really is holding out. Or, it can be that you just do the minimum to keep things going. It’s good to do this once a week, so if the care giver is not feeling well…or is extra tired…there is still a slight break for them.
    It is a one day routine, not done more than one day in a week. You will go back to full-time care giving the next day after the break. This is a good routine to understand, because there are days the spouse care giver is unwell, tired or injured and they need to only do a minimum of care. You will still bring the senior food and medications and do the basics needed. Then you just spend the day in another room or outside on the porch. You check in on the senior every 20 minutes — but you do not fuss over them. 
  2. Today, I gave a day back to George to check on his Alzheimer’s progress. He said he would get up and get his own breakfast of a bagel. He does this about twice a week…all other meals and snacks are given to him by me — on a tray or at the table. 
    What did George do today? He failed his day….he did not get out of bed for food or water. He did not walk or exercise, he only went from the bed to the bathroom and watched TV. I checked on him during the day, asking him to get up and do a walk and get his food…he responded that he would, but never did. I took a break from a day of being pushy and raising my voice and controlling the time frame for his care. At 5:30PM – I came into the bedroom and we chatted about his in-ability to do the tasks for the day. He did not clean up, no tooth brushing, no hair, no nothing. I think it puts the point into my mind, just where he is in his care. He is in need of an attendant at all times. He can not do for his own self any longer. Some times you need to do this test to really see what the senior can do without care. And take note on how much care you actually give to your senior each and every day 24/7. 
    How did I take care of it ? At my 5:30 check-in…I took control back and had him get up, brush his teeth…walk up and down the hall four times and then he came into the kitchen for a light supper and his evening pills. (He had not taken his morning pills, because he did not have his breakfast) We talked about this progress and he was surprised that I was unhappy. He said he could do it if he wanted, he was just tired. I know that is not true…it is just what he is now telling his own mind. But, it showed me that my husband needs me full-time. It is hard to understand that when you give care everyday; all day and all night the care giving starts to creep-up…and you don’t realize the extent of the care needed and the amount of care you give, each and every day…until you step back and take a look. 
  3. Mini-out and about breaks. I have breaks from my Georgie, when I go out to grocery shop and then take a coffee-house break before I come home. I take time to quietly garden in the back yard for 1-2 hour breaks. I take an early morning walk with my dogs, break. I leave George in the front room with the big TV and settle-in, I go into  our bedroom with a smaller old fashion TV and my computer or Kindle Fire. I take time to read, to listen to Pandora and to write notes to my friends on Twitter and FaceBook. I stay connected to my friends via Internet so I am not isolated.
  4. Taking sleep breaks. When you give care…it’s important to set a daily schedule that is yours not your senior’s time. I set the day and then I can set my own time around it. One of the things I do – is to give George a good lunch, then walk him up and down the hall…give him a bathroom break and then he settles into his chair and naps. I then force myself to lay-down.  I may just cuddle with the dogs or listen to music. But I rest, and if I sleep and take a real nap — I applaud myself. I deserve rest and getting it where ever I can, is important for me to do.
  5. I eat differently than George. I am overweight. After many years of care giving and eating poorly, I have now trained myself to eat on my own food program. When I do this I get more energy and I have a plan to my day. I eat protein and low carb. George does not. He eats a full meal with proper nutrition but not low carbs. So that means that I cook two different meals? NO, actually that is not true. I cook a meal with meat and veggies and for George I add a starch and dessert. It is a one meal deal, with two different ways to serve it. If I did not have a weekly meal plan, I would be really overweight. I make a meal plan, I have food prepared for both of us and treats for George. I stick to it and we both stay healthy and within our weight range. Eating well keeps my personal energy up and I do not get drained down.
  6. Supplement are a must! If you think you can do a job like care giving and not take extra vitamins and mineral with supplements –YOU ARE NUTS. I take so many different supplements, but they keep me strong and help me with extra energy. They keep me healthier and they help me get over any bugs that come along the way. How do you start. Make it simple…just add a good quality of multi vitamin and 2,000 units of vitamin C to keep you up and going everyday. Then do some self-study online and find supplements that will fit your personal needs. If you do this your health will stay strong. All to many spouse allow their own health to fail as they give all the love and care to their spouse…foolish. Care givers need to be the pillar of strength that the family revolves around…not fall apart and need to be given care or lose their own health and life after they lose their spouse. I am determined to live through my love for George after he makes the full journey through the end of his life.
  7. Staying on a time plan, means that I can have my own time plan. Once again; giving care to someone is not a throw the senior in front of a TV day plan. You have to decide what each day brings. If you want to be in the yard working…then you take the senior and get them situated int he shade with music and a newspaper. If you want to be on your computer you find movies to tape so they can be on demand for your senior’s viewing. If you want to bake all day…then your senior needs to be a the kitchen table with a newspaper, a project to do or a TV to watch. You bring the senior along with your daily schedule and then you both feel that life moves and changes and you get things done.
  8. Neighbors n friends that come and sit w the senior are gems. I found a couple of senior neighbors that have told me they are fine with coming over for an hour or two and watching TV or playing cards with George. That means I can take a nap, go to the store, meet my sister for a quick-lunch out. If someone says…call me I will help. CALL THEM! It takes a village is not a joke…it does take a lot people do small things to make the care givers life ‘do-able’
  9. Senior Day Care centers, senior centers, faith centers…there are various places that will take seniors for a fee, or for free for a few hours. This is a gem of a service. They understand that spouse care givers need a break…so they make different activities available for the senior. Many of the activities that George likes are usually seasonal. It helps him feel the change the season and enjoy…an egg painting class. A turkey walk or a New Years bird watch….line dancing, chair yoga…the list goes on and on. If you do not search out and find these services you will never know how the change can give your senior a boost and you an escape from the pressure of care.
  10. Rest-time-out. We use the Veterans’ system and they have a yearly service of 30 days of an ‘in-care facility’ available for each veteran with dementia. I can use it one week at a time, all at once, or on a day by day basis at a Alzheimer’s day care center. These rest-pit care services are covered by many of the insurance companies….call them and ask. Ask your primary doctor for any knowledge he has of services in your area. This is a way for me to take a full week off and maybe get out-of-town, or stay with my sister, or simply sleep well without George waking me all night. What a great gift to care givers to have this service available.
  11. IN-HOME CARE…there are so many ways to use in-home care. You can have a family member come each week to visit, you can run an ad in Craigslist or the paper and hire someone (who is trained and has a background check) to come into the home for a few hours each day, you can hire a professional bath lady, or my favorite– is a wonderful in-home care company that will come out and give you a review of what is needed and price quote. If you can not afford the whole package they suggest for you– then pick and choose what services would help you out. These service companies are bonded and licensed so you do not have to worry about their care givers coming into your home. Safety; is never to be under rated for you and your senior.
  12. When the choice to move a senior in to a facility is made…you want to really review the different choices you have in your area. Do not make any facility (no matter how great) a long drive. The family will have a hard time to visit. Now with Alzheimer’s you think a senior will forget and adjust. Trust me; memory is a strange thing…everyone needs to feel loved and attended to…even when they seem to be lost inside their head. A person needs spouse and family love….for a reason to move through their day, live for tomorrow. If you were trapped inside your own mind…would you not want your loved ones to be there and hug you and bring you treats? YES…everyone wants to be loved. So the facility needs to be close to home.
  13. Check it out. Each facility has to be checked by the state department of health. Ask the facility to show you their book. The inspector goes over things and writes it down in a book that is available to the public. You can see if they are clean and have nothing to hide. Then go to the facility in the day and the evening to just walk around and see how the seniors are being treated, fed and if the air smells clean. Ask friends and family for ideas about facilities in the area. Go online and read about the facility and see if you can find reviews. Join the family support group that the facility should provide. This way you get ideas of how to keep giving support and love to your own senior as they go through the down stages of their health.
  14. Get into your mind how the end of the life with your senior will be. Then make it so. What I mean is; If there are things that your spouse has said they want to do…make sure they do them, soon. Don’t put it off. Georgie wanted to visit his parent’s grave site…so I drove up to Seattle to make sure he had that experience and I took a picture of him by the grave stones. He looks a that picture often. I have talked to him about care and what he wants me to do as he needs more care and procedures and how he envisions his memorial.
    This is never a fun thing to do for anyone…but once it is said and done…the family can comply and keep the senior happy when the senior gets to a point that they can not express their wants or needs. You, as the spouse, have a lot of decisions to make. So when you have had this chat, you will feel your decisions are not made alone…but are made with the spirit of the senior and their desires on your mind.
  15. Dementia and other extended health fights…mean an elongated journey through grief. It may seem odd to think I am grieving and George is still sitting in the living room.  But little bits and pieces of my George die every day. Some times, I just really feel the loss. I will ask your family to understand that grief can be a long ride and to support the care giver if they are going through a hard time. I fight depression and exhaustion on a daily basis…that is what care givers do…they work through the pressures and sadness.
    One day I think I am ready to face life without George and then a week later, when I ask him to help me with some small chore and he can no longer give me that help…I will fall apart in sorrow over what seems like a small thing.  Spouse or full-time care-givers need to understand this grief. Family, friends or other health care providers…need to take note of the emotional ride that is taken when a person is in a journey to the end of their life.

Your dad is the boss of him… if he feels he has nothing left to give to your mom –take that as a sign that he is stressed and totally void of energy. Don’t try to change his mind…take a turn at full-time care and give him a week break to be with other family members and recharge. When he returns; if he still feels the same way, then it is time to add in-home care staff or move your mother to a care facility that is appropriate. I hope the ideas will help you and your dad.

I give you both a hug…for being there for your mother. Care giving is a very hard time of life. I honor anyone who does it for love of family…or as a profession. Blessings on your senior in care…may they open up and see the love that is being given to them. Francy

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