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How to Reclaim Your Life: 5 Tips to Break Out of Isolation

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October 1, 2015

Think back to what your life looked like before you became a caregiver. Have you had to give up personal activities since you started taking care of a loved one?

  • Attending children’s school athletic events, plays and musical performances?
  • Participating in neighborhood block parties and barbecues?
  • Church events and outings?
  • Impromptu Saturday lunches and shopping excursions with girlfriends?
  • Dining out with other couples—or inviting other couples for dinner at your place?

The truth is, you may have sacrificed more than you realize to care for a loved one. If you’re like most family caregivers, you may have become isolated by giving up most (if not all) of your social life.

In a recent survey conducted by Home Instead, Inc., franchisor of the Home Instead Senior Care® network, 74 percent of surveyed family caregivers caring for an individual with a dementia illness said they and their loved ones had become more isolated as a result of the disease. This withdrawal from social activities can cause depression, anxiety, exhaustion and a host of other negative effects.

Caregiver isolation can occur due to a variety of reasons, including:

  • Not recognizing the signs of social isolation and taking action to avoid them
  • Lack of family support with caregiving
  • Feeling guilty about asking for caregiving help
  • Difficulty taking a loved one with Alzheimer’s out in public
  • Fear of the unpredictable behaviors that can occur in a person with a dementia illness, such as verbal outbursts

5 Tips to Overcome Caregiver Isolation

If caregiving has taken over your life to the point where you rarely go out alone or with friends anymore, take heart. You can reclaim parts of your pre-caregiving life and avoid the downward spiral of isolation with these tips.

1. Recognize the signs of caregiver social isolation

Do you routinely turn down invitations for social events? Worse, have the invitations stopped coming because your friends already know you won’t take part due to your caregiving responsibilities? Take a good look at your lifestyle. If you rarely or never participate in social functions anymore, you have become too isolated. Recognizing the problem is the first step toward solving it.

2. Rely on the perception of friends

It is easy to become so wrapped up in caregiving that you are not able to recognize the signs of isolation for yourself. Poll your friends for honest feedback about whether or not you’ve become too withdrawn. If your friends feel you have become isolated, hear what they say and take action to re-engage.

3. Ask for caregiving help from family and friends

Don’t be afraid to state your needs to family members and friends. It is OK to say, “I need to get out of the house for a while this weekend. Can you sit with Mom for the afternoon?” Even better, set up a schedule for others to regularly take over caregiving duties so you can get out and socialize. It will help you feel refreshed and better able to care for your loved one when you routinely spend time with other people.

4. Don’t feel guilty about obtaining respite care

It’s tough to give your best self to your loved one if you feel overwhelmed or depressed due to caregiver isolation. When family members or friends can’t or won’t help with caregiving, look for alternative ways to get out of the house. Home Instead Senior Care CAREGivers™ can provide a variety of care services and personal interaction with your loved one while you take some well-earned time off.

5. Seek out Alzheimer’s friendly businesses

Remember that isolation can be bad for your loved one, too. To help you both get out of the house more often, look for the Alzheimer’s Friendly BusinessSM seal at your local restaurants and retail shops. These businesses have completed a training program that equips their staff members to better serve people with a dementia illness and their caregivers. Learn more about the Alzheimer’s Friendly Business program.

Caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s or another dementia illness can be rewarding but time-consuming. You might reasonably expect to cut back on your social life a little bit when you become a caregiver, but if you stop socializing entirely you could be at risk for isolation—and all the negative effects that can bring. Remember to periodically take time away from caregiving to in an effort to ward off social isolation. It can help you to be a better caregiver for your loved one.

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Thoughts and stories from others
  1. October 19, 2015 at 4:22 pm | Posted by Judy

    Things can get tough. Have been caring for my husband for over 11 years . The last few the roughest. Totally dependent no help from family , friends seem to shy away slowly, so I'm on my own. Love keeps me strong, can't afford any respite care at this time so the only time I go out alone is food shopping and then its a rush to get back and hope all is well. We got a pup recently, more work for me but a joy for both of us and he keeps the hubby company when I run to the store now.

    Reply

  2. October 17, 2015 at 5:33 am | Posted by Claudia

    I placed my 61 year old husband 9 weeks ago. I have continued to do some of the things we always did as a couple I moved my husband yesterday to a different facility that has a specialized alzheimer dementia unit. I am not "allowed" to see him for a week. A lot of people are telling me to go out and enjoy myself. I don't really know what to do any more. Any suggestions?

    Reply

  3. October 15, 2015 at 12:55 pm | Posted by Georgia b moseley

    I am new to home instead. These seniors are wonderful and we can all learn from them.

    Reply

  4. October 14, 2015 at 11:23 pm | Posted by Liza

    I've been a caregiver for a company and privately, what do you suggest for us the caregivers?

    Reply

  5. October 12, 2015 at 6:05 pm | Posted by Rick

    I didn't realize I was becoming a recluse due to being a good husband while seeing for my wife's needs. Thanks for your letter.

    Reply

  6. October 12, 2015 at 5:02 pm | Posted by Raymond Spellman

    Boy, try all thecaregiving at age 85-no kids around to help. It gets for me as some other of you I have read about-hate to get up ingthe morning.. Another aspect I hear not much of-cannot get out of sight before she is up and looking for me. I, as so many others of you , could talk all day. Thanks for letting me sound off. It is almost amusing at dinnertime----------never had tried cooking before all t his. Hey, we are still alive LOL-Ray

    Reply

  7. October 11, 2015 at 3:43 am | Posted by Deb martinez

    I've had issues with going places without her so it's better just staying home. But recently she seems to be really angry with me lashing out to my 2 sisters and brother . It makes it hard as they are not supportive with her care but seem to fuel her anger. While she trusts me with paying her bills she accuses or intimates to family and neighbors that I may have taken her keys, special coin, etc. Then she finds them. I really don't know how to deal with this anymore.

    Reply

  8. October 10, 2015 at 1:51 am | Posted by Daniel Marso

    This is huge problem that sneaks up on care givers. Your very best friends , will give you support. Many will drop away,because they either don't know how to act with your loved one, or they are afraid of what they'll see of their friend . Going to larger restaurants is problematic, because you don't know how your loved one will act,so you go to fast food , or smaller restaurants . I try to swim at the YMCA, once a week, Breakfast with friends once a week, and a great support group once a week, and a twice weekly lunch with a dear friend . But I have felt isolated from our grandchildren, because we are exhausted , and going to their games is exhausting for my Wife. Last year we only made one sporting event , out of 5 Grandchildren who were participating in sports.

    Reply

  9. October 9, 2015 at 7:28 pm | Posted by Sandy Samens

    Tom had Guillian Barre Syndrome about 15 years ago and needed my constant care for a couple of years. Then that went away and he was good for a few years. Then he said he noticed he had lost his sense of smell. No big deal. But less than a year later his left hand shook and he saw things that weren't there. People, animals, insects, etc... Scary!! then he staggered when he walked , lost his train of thought mid-sentence, lost some control over his bowel movements and often lost control over his urine. He quit reading and going for walks. He was diagnosed with Parkinson's Disease about 10 years ago. He now needs help dressing, and he falls. We got a bidet so I wouldn't have to clean him after having a BM. I neglected to say, besides taking care of Tom, I have had 3 heart attacks, cardio catherization and angioplasty, then a stent, and lastly open heart surgery for a triple by-pass. I also have severe arthritis. It's hard for me to care and dress myself, let alone both him and me. I don't go hardly anywhere any more. I used to go play bingo once a month, then once every two months. Now I can't remember the last time I've gone. Over several months at least. I get depressed, but I hold it in. It isn't poor Tom's fault, It's that damn Parkinson's Disease. I feel like I'm SCREAMING inside, but I put a smile on my face and go on. My cheeks and lips quiver from nerves sometimes.

    Reply

  10. October 9, 2015 at 12:20 pm | Posted by Sandy McCoig

    I am having trouble trying to re-engage. I did go to a painting class and can't seem to find the way back.

    Reply

  11. October 9, 2015 at 11:09 am | Posted by Suzanne

    Please write another column specifically directed at caregivers who are not part of a couple. Many of us are single and are caretakers for our elderly parents. I believe our needs are different from those of caretakers who are part of a couple. Thank you.

    Reply

    • August 2, 2016 at 7:56 am | Posted by Suzanne

      Hi Suzanne, It's now Aug 2, 2016. A long time since you posted your comment (Oct. 2015) but it's the first time that I've read it! I am an only child, and I've been taking care of my two sick elderly parents and living with them in their house (because they want to be there). My mom has a form of dementia--Parkinson's, Lewey Bodies. It's been 4 1/2 years of doing this for me. I try my best to keep going. I call prayer lines every day to summon strength. But I am burned out and am/feel very isolated!

      Reply

  12. October 8, 2015 at 6:34 pm | Posted by Sandy Abbagnaro

    I have many obstacles but this one has me stump. My husband will not change his clothes. He wants to have the same clothes day after day. I tried sneaking the clothes when he's asleep, he get so angry, not worth the argument. I meet a friend for lunch while he is at the adult care center. He goes one day a week, that's all I can afford. That help me a great deal, I can do whatever I want.

    Reply

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