Caregiving is a labor of love, and love is about selflessness and sacrifice. Spouses give up so much for each other, parents constantly put their children’s needs before their own, and when those children become grown adults with aging parents, they want to return the love and care they received.
If you find yourself consistently making sacrifices to care for your loved one with Alzheimer’s disease, your heart is certainly in the right place. But such devotion can also take its toll on your health and well-being.
According to the Family Caregiver Alliance, caregivers of individuals with Alzheimer’s disease are more likely to report higher levels of burden and stress than other caregivers due to the cognitive and physical limitations experienced by the care recipients. And, a word of caution: a study from the National Alliance for Caregiving (PDF 2.6 MB) found that as care recipients’ dementias get worse, the health of their caregivers tended to diminish significantly as well.
Consciously taking steps to care for yourself is important both for your sake and your loved one’s. Feeling physically, emotionally and mentally refreshed will help you be the best caregiver you can be.
- Say Yes to Help
It might require swallowing some guilt or pride, but if you feel overwhelmed, stressed to the max and exhausted, it’s time to ask for help. Talk to your other family members and come up with a solution together. Maybe the others can pitch in more regularly to give you a respite. Or maybe you’ll decide to hire outside help. Non-medical in-home senior care agencies like Home Instead Senior Care specialize in finding just the right caregiver to match your loved one’s needs, interests and personality. They can provide care for just a few hours per week or as much as 24/7 care. You’ll find peace of mind when you can take a break from caregiving and attend to your own needs knowing your loved one is with a well-trained, trusted caregiver.
- Stay Informed
Knowledge is power when it comes to caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s. Arming yourself with information will reduce worry and stress while boosting your confidence and ability to take control of your situation.
- Learn about the stages of Alzheimer’s disease so you know what to expect and can plan ahead.
- Research the types of Alzheimer’s long-term care optionsand check with your area agency on aging for resources available in your community.
- Read up on important Alzheimer’s care topics and techniques so you feel better prepared to handle the unique behaviors and needs your loved one exhibits.
- Find Support
This could mean joining a caregiver support group in your community, taking part in an online community for Alzheimer’s caregivers, or just finding a good friend willing to listen and lend a shoulder to cry on. You need a safe space to vent your frustrations (without taking it out on your family) and a source of encouragement. Caregiving for a loved one with Alzheimer’s disease or other dementias is one of the hardest jobs out there, so it may help to hear other caregivers’ stories and take the journey together.
- Take Care of YourselfMuch easier said than done, of course, but taking time to take care of your own needs is absolutely essential.
- Avoid skipping or putting off your own doctor appointments
- Take time to yourself everyday to do something you want to do
- Listen to your body and give it what it needs—rest, exercise, a chance to cry, a nice massage, healthier food, a doctor’s check-up, etc.
- Say Yes to Help
While you will inevitably still make some personal sacrifices, limit them to the ones you feel are most important. Keep your stress levels in check by taking the Caregiver StressMeter assessment and learn what you need to do to maintain your own health and spirits.
- Focus On the Positive
Make a point each day to note the things that went well, focus on what your loved one can do rather than dwelling on the difficulties, and don’t hesitate to break out your sense of humor! Never underestimate the power of a good, hearty laugh to ease tension and melt away stress. Negativity, on the other hand, will just drag you down, so strive to maintain good moods and attitudes to remain at the top of your game.
Even if it seems like caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s demands all your time and energy, know that you’re entitled to take personal time for yourself. It’s not only allowed, it’s necessary. Start right now—choose one thing you can do to feel better today and you’ll be on your way toward a more rewarding caregiving experience.