Taking care of a loved one with Alzheimer’s disease can place a lot of strain on your own emotional and physical health. You put their needs before your own, and in doing so you may be neglecting your health.
Caregiver stress is very common in Alzheimer’s and dementia caregivers. Keep the following tips in mind to stay healthy and ensure that the support you provide for a family member doesn’t jeopardize your own health.
Signs of Caregiver Stress
Alzheimer’s caregivers are more likely to suffer from caregiver stress if they are inexperienced, living with the patient, and suffer from preexisting health conditions. Social isolation and financial difficulties also increase the risk, leading to signs such as:
- Feeling overwhelmed with your daily tasks and responsibilities
- A constant feeling of fatigue and tiredness
- Suffering from depression and anxiety that wasn’t there before
- Feeling like you need alcohol or drugs to make it through the day
- Feeling contempt for the patient, irritable, and angry
- Complete loss of interest in hobbies
- Losing or gaining weight
Fortunately, there are caregiver support services out there and you can use these to turn things around, improve your health, and, as a result, allow you to provide better care for your loved one.
Don’t be Scared to Take a Break
Working around the clock to provide for others will drain you physically and mentally. It’s important to make time for yourself, to rest, take it easy, and recover.
Respite care services can give you some much-needed support. These services can be provided by family members, friends, or paid caregivers, and they can occur inside the patient’s home or in a nursing home.
Accept Help When it is Offered
There are numerous community resources and local resources to help you when you’re struggling. They can advise, provide, and help you and the patient with daily care needs. These include support groups, such as the Family Caregiver Alliance, where you can speak with health care professionals and people in the same situation as you.
You can also get help from friends and family members. Don’t let pride prevent you from getting the support you so desperately need. If someone wants to ease your burdens by taking over for a few days or dealing with basic chores like grocery shopping, bill paying, cooking, and cleaning, let them!
It’s important to be honest with yourself, as well. You can’t do everything, and you shouldn’t try to. Everyone has their limitations and if there is something you can’t do, it’s better to focus on the things you can and leave the rest to someone else.
A family member may assume the role of a caregiver because they feel obliged. They know the patient, they love them, and so they are in the best position to help them, right?
Family caregivers are more prone to stress than professionals. They don’t have the experience that a professional caregiver has, and they also lack the education needed to make their job easier.
If you’re looking after a loved one, it’s important to stay educated and to understand their condition as best you can. Take a look at the resources provided by the Alzheimer’s Association and the National Institute on Aging to learn more about Alzheimer’s caregiving.
The more you know, the easier it will be and the less stress you will feel.
Set Health Goals
When you spend your days caring for the needs of someone else and your nights trying to catch-up with sleep, it’s hard to take care of yourself properly.
Once you follow the advice outlined above, you may find that you have a little extra free time, at which point you can start setting short-term and long-term health goals for yourself. Give yourself concrete goals to chase, such as healthy meal plans, weight loss strategies, and exercise.
For example, finding the time to take a walk, go on a bicycle ride, and eat healthily can greatly improve your mental and physical well-being.
Don’t Neglect Your Hobbies
To maintain good mental health, you need to fill your days with something more than cooking, cleaning, and caring. Pick up a hobby and find something you love, something that lets you zone out and relax now and then.
Caregivers often feel guilty for taking some time for themselves, but as long as the patient is not at risk, there’s no harm in having a few hours to relax and unwind.
Don’t Isolate Yourself
Social withdrawal is common in long-term caregivers, especially those caring for spouses. They may complain that friends have stopped visiting and that family members don’t care anymore, but these problems often begin with the caregiver. If they don’t make time for friends and family by inviting and embracing them, they won’t come and eventually they will drift apart.
They may also feel a little ashamed, as they don’t want old friends to see their loved one in a deteriorated state. Regardless, remember that they, like you, will understand, and that there’s nothing to be ashamed of.
More importantly, social interaction is essential for a caregiver’s health and should not be neglected. You need people around you. Not only can they assume the role of a secondary provider, taking some of the strain away from you when you’re tired or ill, but they can also give you a shoulder to cry on.
You need someone to vent to, so don’t let those friends slip away.
Understand When it’s Time to Change
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, remember that a patient’s health and needs can change. If their health problems are greater than before, there is an increased risk of daily harm and injury, and when you find yourself struggling to keep pace it could be time to let go.
Consider an alternative long-term care solution, such as a professional home care service, an adult day care service, or a nursing home.
When their needs exceed your capabilities, it’s time to swallow your pride and get help.