Here is a guest post from Lydia Chan of Alzheimer’s Caregiver. Her post covers a topic I strongly support: self-care for caregivers.
November is National Family Caregivers Month and National Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness Month. It’s important to understand the implications of caring for Alzheimer’s patients. The disease is far-reaching, and being a caregiver is taxing physically and mentally. If you’re a caregiver for someone with Alzheimer’s, here are some ways to offset the stress you may be experiencing.
If you care for someone with Alzheimer’s Disease, you are not alone. There are almost 15 million dementia and Alzheimer’s caregivers in America. At this time, there is no cure for Alzheimer’s, and there is limited relief for symptoms. This leaves caregivers with what experts at HelpGuide describe as “a series of grief experiences as you watch your loved one’s memories disappear and skills erode. The person with Alzheimer’s will change and behave in different, sometimes disturbing or upsetting ways. For both caretakers and their patients, these changes can produce an emotional wallop of confusion, anger, and sadness.”
Potential burnout. Caring for a loved one struggling with this disease can lead to burnout. The chronic stress of the situation is emotionally and physically exhausting, and can leave you with no energy or interest to care for yourself or anyone else. Here are signs some experts say indicate you may be reaching the breaking point:
- Abuse of alcohol or medications
- Unhealthy changes in appetite – overeating or undereating
- Depression, hopelessness, loss of energy
- Feeling alienated
- Lack of self-control physically or emotionally
- Rough treatment or neglect of the patient
- Inability to sleep
- Inability to concentrate
- Not keeping appointments
Self-care for the caregiver. Because you are traveling this difficult road, it’s essential that you take care of yourself. Experts at the National Institute on Aging recommend the following:
Connect. Participate in a caregivers’ support groups and spend time with friends.
Recreate. Spend time doing your favorite hobbies and activities.
Maintain your physical health. Eat right, exercise, and get enough sleep. Keep up routine medical exams.
Get help. Don’t try to do everything all the time. Take breaks daily and ask family members and friends to assist with some caregiving duties. Be specific when you ask for help from other family members and friends. For instance, ask for someone to prepare supper or take your loved one shopping. If you are having trouble finding help, you can pay someone to help for a couple hours per day. If that isn’t possible, even a couple hours per week can provide relief. If you aren’t sure how to find services, check out the Eldercare Locator.
Spend time with Fido. Part of your self-care routine can include time with your four-legged family member. According to some experts, dogs are a terrific relief for anxiety and depression. Here are some of the ways your pooch can improve your well-being:
- Lowers your blood pressure.
- Offers a soothing presence.
- Reduces cortisol.
- Helps you forget negative emotions such as anger and frustration.
- Offers unconditional support, love and companionship.
- Encourages exercise.
- Gets you outside to enjoy fresh air and sunshine.
- Increases social interaction.
Make sure your time with your dog is a stress-reducer and not a stress-inducer. If you have trouble getting to your dog’s needs at times, hire a dog walker to reduce stress associated with getting your pup exercised when you can’t be at home.
Your needs as a caregiver. As someone who cares for an Alzheimer’s patient, you are under a fair amount of pressure. Without proper care of yourself, you risk burnout. Embrace a healthy, balanced lifestyle with good self-care. You will have more to offer yourself and the loved one you’re caring for.
For more respite care resources, visit Respite Care Share.