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Practical Caregiving

Humor is an Important Caregiving Ingredient

By Jean Donahue

Before I was caring for Mom and Dad, Dad took care of Mom. She had Alzheimerís disease and wasnít capable to taking care of herself any longer. Dad did a terrific job, but there were times things turned out rather strange.  

They went north to Vancouver Island in in the summer and to Texas or Arizona in the winter. My uncle and I took turns driving them to their destination. When they were in , Dad made an appointment with a doctor for Mom. They waited in the office until her name was called, then they both got up to go in.  

Thatís when Momís slacks fell down. She stood there in her underwear, not knowing what to do. Dad looked at her and laughed. Then he pulled them up. When Dad laughed, Mom laughed, and so did everyone in the office. What could have been a very upsetting moment turned into an uplifting event for everyone. 

When I was taking care of Mom and Dad, and we were again on Vancouver Island in ,. Dad insisted that I visit Butchart Gardens in Victoria . Mom and Dad couldnít walk through the gardens, so Dad said he would stay in the car with Mom. I didnít want to leave them alone, but I knew it would upset Dad if I didnít, and I wanted him to feel like he was not a burden on me. He had done that many times when I ran into grocery stores, so I thought it would be all right.  

Mom was about the "age" of a small child. I had been through Butchart Gardens before and knew where to go, so I rushed through in about an hour. When I walked back to the car, I was mortified. Dad was sitting in the front seat asleep, and Mom was sitting in the back seat completely naked! I rushed to put her clothes on her while she fought my putting them on her. When Dad woke up I told him what happened, and he laughed.  

Now I can look back and see the humor in that situation. I wish I would have realized it at the time. It would have helped me. If I could have joked with Mom, it might have been easier to get her clothes on her, and my stress level would have been much less. Later, I learned to laugh at the unusual things that happen. 

As a family caregiver, you are often under extreme levels of stress. Whether your loved one is in a nursing home or at home, they depend on you for their needs. It is an awesome responsibility. If you let yourself dwell on that thought, you wonít want to get up in the morning. It is so important to feel the joy in what you are doing, and see the humor in what happens on a daily basis.  

Laughter and humor help relieve stress, which, in turn, has physical benefits. It gives release from mounting tension your body experiences. Your muscles relax, and pain is reduced. Stress is known to weaken our immune system, making us more susceptible to viruses and other conditions and diseases.  

Humor helps us emotionally by reducing anger at our situation and our loved one's situation. It increases our joy and helps us take control of our emotions. Finally, you will find that you have more energy when you learn to laugh at things that happen. A good laugh is like taking a break from the responsibility of taking care of your loved one. We can all use that.  

Laughing and humor help our loved one as much, or more, than us. It has all the benefits for them that it does for us. They are in a horrible situation, and it can give them joy, even temporary joy. When they spill a glass of water, try to find something to laugh about and make a joke out of it. When they stumble, try to get them to laugh about it.  

Just make sure they donít feel you are laughing "at" them, but laughing "with" them.  

Letís face it. Being a family caregiver is not a pleasant situation for you or your loved one. Letís do everything we can to find joy in what we are doing. Letís do everything we can to help our loved one enjoy their life as long as possible.