Janet Jacob

Janet recently took a ‘workshop’ with a group of older people who were caring for their husbands or wives. Janet used to be a psychogeriatric nurse and care home manager, and knows about the strain that caregiving can be when you are the main carer. She is  one of our speakers and trainers.  She’s also aware that family caregivers tend  to neglect looking after themselves.

She said, “it was a real privilege to share with them. Being a sole caregiver is a very demanding role. They are all doing a very good job, and giving it their utmost, but like so many others in their position they feel inadequate and doubt their capabilities.  Simply being able to share their common experiences with one another was so helpful.  Knowing that others have similar burdens, and completely understood their cares and concerns helped them see things in an entirely different light.

“Caregivers put their own lives on hold and are totally preoccupied with their loved ones’ needs. When I asked these dedicated folk what one thing would make a the most difference to them, they all said, “to be able to please myself sometimes”. They said that their timetables revolve around their spouse’s needs.

“They also said how sad they were when friends asked how their spouse was, but not about how they were doing. It was such a joy to share with them the importance of caring for themselves, and to give themselves some ‘Hot Chocolate’ moments.”

A ‘Hot Chocolate’ moment is doing something that you like deliberately for a short while, to give yourself a break. It comes from the TV commercial where a frazzled mother hired a babysitter so that she could go into the kitchen and make herself a cup of hot chocolate – which she promptly took into another room altogether where she was alone to enjoy it. “Hot Chocolate” can be whatever works for you: listening to a piece of music, reading a chapter of a book, meditating, doing some stretching exercises, phoning a friend – whatever does it for you!

This group of family caregivers, who are living in our retirement flats in Yorkshire, have decided to get together once a week to talk, and to share over a cup of tea.  They’re going to call it their ‘Hot Chocolate Group.’

It’s good guidance for people who’d like to come alongside and help.  If you know someone who is caring in this way, you might like to offer to sit with the husband or wife to give them a little time to themselves. Interestingly, they probably won’t take a ‘Hot Chocolate’ moment, but get on with their normal jobs, like ironing or vacuuming! It’s the pleasure of the familiar routine. This doesn’t matter – the choice is theirs. A wife I met whose husband has dementia says she likes to go into the garden and pull some weeds or deadhead the flower bushes.

And be sure to ask how the caregiver is feeling! It goes without saying that they won’t see themselves as a ‘caregiver’ but simply a husband or wife or adult child or brother or sister who is doing their best in an unexpected role.

It doesn’t take a lot to ask, “how are you?”. And sitting for half an hour, or even an hour won’t take all that much out of your life, but will contribute hugely to theirs.

Louise Morse

Louise Morse MA (CBT) is media and external relations manager for the Pilgrims’ Friend Society. She is a writer and speaker, and author of books on issues of old age, including dementia, published by Lion Monarch and SPCK. She is a cognitive behavioural therapist, and her Masters’ dissertation examined the effects of caring for a loved one with dementia on close relatives.

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