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10 ways caregivers can provide (and enjoy) a safe and healthy new year

SPONSORED — If you’re giving someone with Alzheimer’s the priceless gift of love and care, be sure you’re not neglecting yourself in the process. Here are a few ways to make your life safe and healthy – for you and the person you’re caring for.

Prep for family

Make sure family events are helpful – not stressful – for you and your patient by prepping attendees beforehand about your patient. If a barrage of questions makes him nervous or disoriented, ask family members to keep conversation simple. If chaos causes her anxiety, avoid gatherings with small children. Family time can be very helpful, so when it’s not, understand that it’s OK to leave.

Drink plenty of water

When your calendar is too full, it’s easy for your glass to be pretty empty – literally. Be sure you’re drinking enough to stay hydrated – and take extra precaution with the person you’re caring for as well. According to Alzheimers.org, people with dementia are at a higher risk for dehydration any time. During the busy times, the risk can be even greater.

Rest up

Caregiving isn’t just mentally and emotionally taxing; it can also take a physical toll. Keep yourself well rested to keep yourself from burning out – physically or mentally. If you have a hard time getting consistent sleep, practice waking up at the same time every day, getting sun exposure, consuming caffeinated beverages before 2 p.m., exercising after 6 p.m. and eating a smaller dinner. An hour before bed, take a warm shower or bath, shut down electronics with bright screens and consider a relaxing pre-bedtime activity, like meditation or prayer.

See the sun

Everyone likes some time in the sun, but you may not realize how much your body really depends on it. While it’s not always easy to spend time outside during the winter months, a vitamin D deficiency can increase your risk for bone fractures and other health problems. When you head outside, bring your patient along too, as people with Alzheimer’s are at a greater risk for osteoporosis according to Tzu Chi Medical Journal.

Keep your diet (mostly) healthy

It’s the time of year when rich, sugary foods are abundant and busy schedules make meal planning hard. As a caretaker, you want to feel your best, and you want that for your patient as well. Take advantage of fresh winter vegetables by adding them to basic meals; throw spinach into your spaghetti squash, steamed broccoli to scrambled eggs or pumpkin puree to pancakes. Get creative and don’t limit yourself to in-season produce; canned and frozen is perfectly fine.

Take caution

As a caretaker, you’re responsible for the safety of two people. Keep both of you safer by constantly assessing your surroundings. Lower your and your patient’s risk of injury by exercising regularly to maintain strong muscles and bones.

Get your flu shot

It’s inexpensive (or free) and effective, so there’s no excuse to forgo a flu shot, particularly when you’re working with anyone at higher risk for illness. In fact, the flu shot is recommended specifically for the elderly, young children, children and adults with chronic health conditions, and caretakers of any of these groups. If you haven’t gotten your shot yet, bring your patient along to reduce the risk for both of you.

Process grief

For some people, the holidays make painful memories or experiences even more so. People with dementia may have confused feelings about a loss or trauma in their life. If either of you are experiencing grief, take some healthy steps to work through it. Talk to friends and family about how you feel, join a support group or seek out a professional therapist. Exercise, healthy eating, beloved hobbies and spiritual experiences can help you work through your grief as well.

Manage stress

If you or your patient feel stressed, it’s important to address it and not ignore it. Chronic stress can lead to irritability, sleeplessness, anxiety and even depression. Everyone feels stress differently, so your coping mechanism may be different than your patient’s. Regular exercise, healthy eating and taking time to relax, meditate, pray or reflect are healthy stress-management tactics. Take special care to plan ahead, keep a thorough schedule and prioritize tasks to keep stress to a minimum.

Eat out wisely

When life gets busy, eating on the go might seem like a necessity. If you don’t have time to meal prep (or actually cook for that matter), make smart choices when eating out. Opt for meals that include a salad or vegetable and proteins that are broiled, steamed, grilled, poached or roasted. As a caretaker, you’ll also want to ensure you’re helping your patient select foods rich in nutrients (and low in saturated fats and preservatives). Your regular meals should be nourishing, even if they’re from a restaurant. When attending parties, eat a healthy meal beforehand to prevent you from overindulging.

Make sure to keep yourself (and the person you care for) healthy.

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