Alzheimer’s Caregivers Need to Take Time For Themselves

As the average age continues to grow so does the possibility that more of us will be taking care of a loved one as they age or get ill. Caregiving is an act of love and kindness. It does, however, come with a heavy price tag, and without adequate support can turn from an act of love to an act of resentment, so be prepared. Your family dynamics will change; there may be more financial pressure; and the amount of work it will entail will make things uncomfortable. As the pressure and stress mounts so will the toll on your body and your mind.

Caring for a loved one who has a terminal illness, like Alzheimer’s, is not only a stressful situation, it can become overwhelming – leaving the caregiver physically, emotionally and mentally drained. If you don’t take care of yourself you will soon not be able to take care of anyone else. You need to keep your brain and your body in the best possible condition.

When caring for a family member who has Alzheimer’s it’s like watching someone you love turn from a vibrant and active person going through life in reverse. They will turn from an adult, to a teenager, then a baby, right before your eyes. Once day they know you, the next day they think you are a stranger and are afraid. You will be going through a grieving process while they are still alive, and it definitely can take a toll on you.

You need to take a step back and allow others in to help out, especially if you are becoming irritable, feeling resentment, losing sleep, and are constantly getting physically ill. You don’t want to end up in bed yourself, and you certainly don’t want to remember your loved one as a burden – then feel guilty after they are gone.

Ilana Nossel, M.D., a psychiatrist at Columbia University Medical Center, says, “It’s okay to be upset that your loved one is ill and recognize that it takes a toll on you.” That’s a normal–and healthy–reaction. Nossel recommends reaching out to your own support network and keeping a journal to help you cope, and seeking professional and spiritual advice if you’re overwhelmed.

Author Gary Berg, in his book The Fearless Caregiver, sets down some ground rules to help relieve the stress you are under.

  1. Ask the doctor any questions you may have, and research any diet or programs that can help you in taking care of them better. The more you understand the less stressful it will be. Find out as much as you can about the disease your loved one is going through.
  2. What are your reasons for taking care of your ward? Is it to spend as much time with your loved one as possible to create good memories, or is it to make sure their medical needs are attended to properly?
  3. Take time for yourself and get away from the person you are caring for. It is not selfish, and will help you rejuvenate. 
  4. Exercise, it will not only boosts your energy it also gets the blood and oxygen flowing through your body and your brain.
  5. Don’t just eat on the run, eat “brain food” that will keep your mind working as well as building up your immune system
  6. Find some activities you can enjoy to do with your ward. Laughing is a big destresser. Even those with Alzheimer’s in the middle stages are able to do small tasks that can be fun. Keeping a positive attitude and doing things that are fun will also help you to remember them fondly after they have passed.
  7. Let friends and family member help. People often want to help, and are willing, but don’t know what to do. Make a list of things others can do to help you and let them pick what they want, like bring dinner or pick up your prescriptions.
  8. Writing down things that are frustrating you, or something special that happened that day, will help you later on. Keeping a journal also takes the stress out of the situation and allows you to vent without taking it out on your loved one.
  9. Hire someone to come in for a few hours a week to give you a break. Respite care is usually covered by insurance, and they are trained to handle the care of people in need of medical attention. If you can’t afford outside help perhaps another family member would be glad to help. Make a list of anything your ward will need when you are gone, and have it handy for anyone who comes in to help.
  10. There is help available to help you when you start to feel overwhelmed. For a list of resources in your area, check out the Family Care Navigator. Don’t be afraid to ask for help or support, or just go online and participate in blogs with other caregivers. Know your limits and seek help when you need it. 

I have a great respect for anyone who cares for someone else in their time of need. I encourage you to take time for yourself and get help when needed. You don’t want to let the stress take a toll on your mental health or your physical well-being.

 

 

 

Sources:

Beliefnet.com – Tips for Caregivers: http://www.beliefnet.com/Health/2008/09/Tips-for-Caregivers.aspx#ixzz1ceeCwxO6

HelpGuide.org – Preventing Caregiver Burnout: http://helpguide.org/elder/caring_for_caregivers.htm

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