55 Plus is a publication of the Times Colonist, providing items of interest to seniors and their families across Vancouver Island

In-flight wisdom for life at sea-level 

Put on your oxygen mask first if you're caring for an aging loved one
Put on your own mask first wisdom

Admit it. You’ve been tuning out those in-flight safety demonstrations for years. Understandable. If you’ve travelled for work or have out-of-town family you could likely give the safety presentation yourself.

But there’s a nugget of wisdom that warrants your attention – especially if this season of life no longer finds you seated next to small children, but caring for an aging loved one.

Timeless words of wisdom

“In the event of a sudden change in cabin pressure, an oxygen mask will drop from the panel above you. Place the oxygen mask securely over your own face first before assisting other passengers.”

In the context of a high altitude oxygen shortage, this reminder is crucial. Many generous, well-meaning people – especially mothers, are inclined to put others’ safety before their own.

This is beautiful and noble…and, as every airline reminds us: dangerous.

For those of us who take on the responsibility of keeping others alive and safe, we would be wise to apply put-on-your-own-mask-first wisdom to our sea-level life as well.

The slow creep of exhaustion

The reality is, most of us will never face an emergency involving a lack of actual oxygen gas. A far more common scenario is the slow creep of exhaustion that develops when our help isn’t required for a one-time crisis – but rather a monthly need… that grows into a weekly need…and, before we realize it, into a daily need for our dedicated assistance.

But for the most beautifully well-meaning and selfless caregiver, “Put on your own oxygen mask before assisting others,” can feel selfish, or even irresponsible.

The danger to such a dedicated caregiver is subtle and easy to miss. It starts with a skipped walk, a cancelled lunch date, meals on the run, a later bedtime, neglected hobbies.

The risks of caring

While the benefits of personally caring for an aging loved one are many, when the time required to do so displaces important habits, activities or relationships, the health risks of the caregiver begin to rise rapidly.

Family members engaged in long-term care for an aging loved one; especially those dealing with high-stress, emotionally taxing situations such as dementia, are at an increased risk for more frequent colds, flu, chronic illness or degenerative diseases.

Sacrifice in caring for an aging loved one is a beautiful thing. But it’s vital, if you are in this role, that you commit to the important work of caring for yourself as well; restocking your fish pond with restorative activities, necessary rest and life-giving relationships.

Not a sign of weakness

Reaching out for professional care support or scheduling respite is not a sign of failure or weakness, but an act of leadership and generosity. Building a reliable support network is as essential as oxygen if you want to remain strong, healthy and joyful for the long haul.

A professional senior care provider can help you with strategies for introducing new, non-family caregivers into your loved one’s daily or weekly routine.

You’ll enjoy peace of mind knowing you have additional support in case of emergency or illness. Plus, those few extra hours added back into your week will help you remain your best and healthiest self, able to enjoy the precious time you have with the loved one you’re caring for.

~ Lee-Ann dos Santos

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