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How Good Boundaries Make Caregiving Easier

Posted on September 11, 2019

There is an old saying: “Good fences make good neighbors.” Having healthy boundaries in relationships is important for everyone, especially for people caring for someone who has Alzheimer's disease. Setting and defending boundaries allows you to protect your physical and mental health and focus on feeling your best while caring for someone experiencing dementia.

Setting boundaries can be hard. Your friends and family may not be used to you saying no or establishing limits for when and how you are available to them. They may expect you to have the same time and energy you had before you became a caregiver. No matter what, you are entitled to establish the boundaries you need to maintain your emotional and physical wellbeing. Setting boundaries to take care of yourself does not make you mean or selfish – it helps you focus on what you need to do to in order to be able to care for someone else.

Here are a few tips for setting boundaries clearly and compassionately:

  1. Use clear, direct language. For example, “I cannot attend the birthday party” is clearer and more direct than “I’m not sure I’ll be able to attend the birthday party.”
  2. Use “I” language and avoid accusations. For example, “My loved one goes to sleep early. I am not able to take calls after 9 p.m.” is less accusing than “You always call late and wake everyone up!”
  3. Don’t try to justify or over-explain your boundary. “No” is a complete sentence. For example, “I’m not able to take on new obligations right now,” is better than “I can’t volunteer my time right now because the person I care for needs me to be there for them."

After setting boundaries, do not be surprised if you need to defend them. Some people will likely test your boundaries, especially when they are new. Expect some pushback and consider what a good response might be.

Here are some examples of boundary testing and possible responses:

  1. After saying you cannot attend a party, someone attempts to use guilt to pressure you to go. You could explain that the person you care for isn’t taking that day off from being ill, so you will still be unavailable. You could point out that caregiving is hard enough without adding guilt.
  2. After setting a boundary of no phone calls after 9 p.m., someone calls at 9:15. You could choose to let the call go to voicemail. You could answer and ask whether the call is about an emergency. If it’s not an emergency, ask them to call back in the morning, wish them a good night, and hang up.
  3. After saying no to one new obligation, you are asked to take on another. You can point out that Alzheimer's is a chronic disease, meaning that it isn’t going to go away. Therefore your avoidance of new obligations applies to any new obligations, and if they ask again, the answer will be the same.

After testing your boundaries a few times, most people will understand that they are well-defended and learn to respect them. If you have allies who understand the challenges of caregiving, ask them to help you defend your limits with others. Remember, you don’t need to apologize for setting good boundaries that help you stay healthy and feel your best while being a caregiver.

Here are some conversations from myALZteam about setting and defending boundaries:

"Changes were inevitable but never as radical as when caring for my wife. Dementia/Alzheimer’s creates an environment that has no boundaries, rules, or stability."

"For those of us who go and continue to try and care for our loved ones, I want to say, give yourself a break once in a while. Take a day off. If you are like me, it was harder on me than on her, but I needed the break."

"This morning I am going through all of my posts from the beginning. I have come so far down this journey. Some things haven't changed, but one thing that has changed is that I am not so hard on myself."

Have you successfully set boundaries that help you manage caregiving?
What tips would you recommend to help set healthy limits with others?
Share in the comments below or directly on myALZteam.

Posted on September 11, 2019
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