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5 Ways to Be a Healthy Alzheimer’s Caregiver

Caregiver takes time for herself by reading a book.
Much easier said than done, of course, but taking time to take care of your own needs is absolutely essential.

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February 6, 2012

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. Take Care of Yourself

    Much 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.

    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.

  5. 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.

The more you know, the better your loved one's care will be. Free online training and expert tips at HelpforAlzheimersFamilies.com

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Thoughts and stories from others
  1. February 12, 2013 at 8:00 pm | Posted by Harold Scott

    My Father's Son.....My View, Alzheimers From A Distance.· Alzheimers, Dementia, The Forgetting, all terms used to describe the disease that robs the mind,memory, and lives of so many. It is, and has been a fast growing illness, affecting so many families. My family is one of those, in that my daddy was diagnosed with the illness, a few years ago,in early January 2010, but, with symptoms showing several years prior. As with any aging parent, or anyone aging, for that matter, there are times of forgetfulness, but, with Alzheimers, the process is one that progresses at a sometimes faster pace, or perhaps I should say, being able to recall ones daily routines, or familiar places, persons or things, becomes a chore within itself. I am not writing to exploit my Daddys illness, rather, I am writing with my perspective, and, of how I see it evolving, and ,the affects it is having on my Daddy, My Mom, our family, and, on me, as one of his children, and, as one, who sees it from a distance, in that I am living farther away, and, do not see my Daddy on a daily basis, or, as often, as perhaps, other family members do. My Daddy was always a physically strong man. And, even today, at nearly age 80, still tries to be strong. One who was not formally educated, but, was one who used much common sense, and, could do mathmatics in his head faster than most could with pen and paper, or a calculator. He was a hard working farmer, who, along with my Mom, raised and cared for six children. He is a keeper of the land, one, who always enjoyed a good "Coon Dog and hunt", a strong cup of coffee, a good husband and provider, who would at times, while out on the farm , pick wildflowers for my Mom. A simple man, it seems, yet, one who was never shy about talking to friends and strangers,expressing his opinion, and strong willed, almost to the point of being stubborn. I often wonder what it must feel like to him, to be at a loss, in trying to recall recent events, or, in trying to remember someones name. Of the frustration that shows, as he admits, he just can't remember things like he once could. Alzheimers has been described as "The Long Goodbye", and, perhaps that is a good description. As it progresses, and slowly takes away the person we have known, and see the changes in their personality, behavior, and physical appearance, not really knowing what to expect, we realize there is not much we can do, but, to try and help out when and where we can. I often hear the same story repeated over and over, with each visit, and, sometimes that "blank stare" sneaks in. It is then, I am again reminded of how cruel this disease can be, for, I know and realize the toll that is being taken on my Daddys mind and body. His memories of his childhood, still are vivid. He can recall people, places and things of so many years ago. It is these memories that I record, as the family genealogist, as Daddy is the oldest of his surviving siblings. He shares stories of days gone by,so, I jot them down, not only for my records, but, as a way of preserving his memories, and, it becomes a good way for he and I to connect, and have meaningful conversations, as I know, that with each passing day, these memories too, will be forgotten by him, as are the recent ones. Its a way for us to stay ahead of Alzheimers, for the present time, at least. While I am not my daddys full time caregiver, I have been a part time one, especially, during the recent hospitalization of my Mom, who, has been my daddys contant companion, caregiver, and loving wife. It was during this time, that I got to see a side of Daddy, that I had never seen before. While he still functions some days, at a pretty good pace, there are other times when it is a jumbled fog for him, as he starts to say something, forgets, repeats, and sometimes, just outright, does not know what he is saying, nor remember. For the few days, that I cared for he, and, my sister, he did not know who I was, for most of the time, even asking who I was from time to time, and, saying that he had been told that I was his son, and, that was news to him. He did not know he had a son by my name, nor did he remember when I was born. Rather, he often referred to me, as "that little man", who was a pretty good cook, and, house cleaner. But, then, on the other hand, when he did know me, he told me he loved me. My daddy was never an affectionate man, and, even though I knew I was loved by my parents, he, was never one to openly express his love for us. It was during this time, as well, that he expressed how good my Mom had been to him, and, that he thought he made a really good choice, in picking her as his life mate. It was during this time, that, I realized that Daddy was still capable of feeling, and loving, and caring, even though, due to his advancing age, and the affects of Alzheimers, there, hidden away behind what must be frustration on his part, is still a will to be independant, and, to try and go about a "normal" life. For those who know me, know that I am one who lives my life openly, and, have put it all out there on display, as I am one living with a disease of my own. I am one who feels if things are talked about, and discussed, it makes for a better situation. However, within the situation of Alzheimers, and, as it affects my family, talking about it, and, the future planning, regarding such things as living wills, the need for Daddy to stop driving, or, to just let others help out with everyday living, running errands, etc., is a very hard thing to approach for discussion, even for me. I have often said, that I can stand before hundreds of people/strangers, and, talk openly about my life, and the issues and struggles, but, when it comes to my Daddy, and, things I feel would be of benefit to him, or my Mom, things rarely are discussed, or, if they are, it becomes quite the chore. It is as if the roles are reversed, in that as a child, even being a grown child, I sometimes feel like the parent to my Daddy and Mom. I have a great respect for both of them, and, even if Alzheimers were not a part of the mix, it should be that we all look at the future, and, therefore take the steps to prepare legal documents, discuss finances, pre arrangements, etc. There are so many things that could and should be addressed, but, for whatever reason, it is just so hard to get the conversation going. As you read this, and, as I write my thoughts, it is, I suppose, a way for me to get it all out, even if it is only in typed, written words. With any illness, that we are faced with, and, again, I am only speaking for myself, to be able to better deal with it, to not hold it all in, is a good thing. Such is the case here, in that I am trying to be honest about what I am experiencing, and/or feeling, in regards to how I am affected by my Daddys illness. We all, I suppose, have our ways of doing things, expressing ourselves, and opinions. And, while being independant, is someting we all want to be. It is my Daddy, and, I suppose my Mom as well,that I want independance to be theirs for as long as possible. But, with Alzheimers, there is a more urgent feeling, of trying to perhaps control the happenings surrounding it. As stated earlier, driving becomes an issue, as the body and mind is slowed by the progression of Alzheimers. Reflexes are not as quick, distance perception comes into play, and, just plain, good judgement, all figure into driving. For those of us who drive, giving up that independance, would most certainly be a very hard thing to do. And, for anyone affected by Alzheimers, and, still trying to drive, it can be sometimes a deadly combination, or puts one at risk of becoming "lost", in what was once familiar surroundings. I will honestly say, I cannot imagine, what it must feel like to be losing control, of ones thoughts, memories, and, to not be able to recall who ones own child or spouse is, as is the case with advancing Alzheimers, and, as is the case with my own Daddy. I do, however, try to put myself in his place. I try to understand the process, the decline, the overall changes in his appearance and behavior. It must be a scary place to be, to say the very least. I have found, however, there are still ways to connect with Daddy. As I do family genealogy, I sometimes share information with him, helping him to recall long ago memories, and, therefore, allowing conversation, that helps him to feel a part of, without too much effort, and, therefore, making it a less stressful and frustrating time. There are ways, at this point in the disease, at least, to still have some sort of relationship, even though he may not always remember it, a short time after it has occured. It is certainly a stressful thing for us as a family, and, for anyone who is affected by Alzheimers, you certainly know what it is like. Yes, there are somewhat "normal" times, but, then, there are lots of times, when its just painful to see, and hear, as the disease deepens, and slowly causes those we love to slip further into the darkness, of this cruel disease. Perhaps, what I have written here, may appear to just be a rambling story of jumbled thoughts and words, by some of you who read it. To others, it may be the exact thoughts, and experiences you have had, or, are having. For me, again, it is my way of letting it out, and, to not keep it bottled up. It may not resolve any of the issues I have written about, but, overall, it is a therapeutic session, and, a way of shedding some light into the disease. I love my Daddy, Alzheimers or not. The sometimes appearing stubborness that I see from him, may, in part, be a part of his once strong willed personality, and, a coping mechanism, of a depression era upbringing. Whatever it is, he is still my Daddy, and, I'll admit, when he does not know who I am, it hurts, and, makes me sad, but, Daddy told me he loved me, and as my Father's son, this is a partial view of how I see Alzheimers, from a distance. Reality allows me, or perhaps forces me, to know that, as time continues to pass, Daddy will slip further and further away. I cannot stop it, nor, can I make it go away. All I can do is to try to make the best of a difficult situation, and, to enjoy the good times, and keep the memories close, and, to offer up prayers for not only my Daddy, and our family, but, for all affected by this terrible, and sad disease.

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  2. February 12, 2013 at 7:52 pm | Posted by Patricia Collins

    Excerpt tips.

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