Caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s can be a long, stressful, and intensely emotional journey as you watch your loved one’s skills erode and memories disappear.
It is estimated that 30 – 40% of Alzheimer’s caregivers experience depression, high levels of stress, or burnout. Almost all Alzheimer’s caregivers will at some time experience sadness, loneliness, anxiety, and exhaustion, as their loved ones change and behave in a different and sometimes disturbing or upsetting way.
The Challenges of Alzheimer’s care
As the disease advances, your loved one’s needs will increase and your caregiving responsibilities will become more challenging. At the same time, the appreciation of your loved one will diminish leaving you overwhelmed by emotions that can include:
- Denial. it may be difficult to accept the diagnosis. Staying in denial too long can hamper your ability to help your loved one,until you can come to terms with the diagnosis yourself.
- Fear about the progression of the disease and it’s challenges can be overwhelming and can prevent you from focusing on the present.
- Stress and Anxiety about what to expect as the disease progresses.
- Anger and frustration at your loved one: you may experience anger that no cure exists, or frustration “If he asks me that one more time I’ll scream!”. You may also be feeling resentment about how your role as a caregiver will impact your life.
- Social withdrawal from friends and activities that once brought pleasure.
- Exhaustion that makes it nearly impossible to complete necessary daily tasks. “I’m too tired for this.
- Sadness or a sense of loss over your relationship may also lead to feelings of hopelessness
- Sleeplessness caused by a never-ending list of concerns. “What if she wanders out of the house or falls and hurts herself?”
- Lack of concentration that makes it difficult to perform familiar tasks. “I was so busy, I forgot we had an appointment.”
- Health problems that begin to take a mental and physical toll. “I can’t remember the last time I felt good.”
Tips to Avoid Being Burnout
Just as each individual with Alzheimer’s disease progresses differently, so too can the caregiving experience vary widely from person to person. It is your caregiving that can make the biggest difference to your loved one’s quality of life, that in itself can be a remarkable gift. The following tips can help make the caregiving journey as rewarding as it is challenging:
- Seek regular respite. You cannot do it all alone. Ask other family members or friends for help so you can get a much needed break. You can also seek help from volunteer organizations or support groups. Schedule frequent breaks throughout the day and take time out to pursue hobbies and interests
- Get moving; regular exercise not only keeps you fit, it releases endorphins that can really boost your mood.
- Talk to a trusted friend, family member, or therapist, about how you feel and what you’re going through.
- Take time to enjoy. In the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease, include your loved one in short walks, board games, or jigsaw puzzles. A daily dose of fun is good medicine.
- See the funny side. Humor is a well-known antidote to stress, sadness, illness, and boredom. Give yourself permission to chuckle at the absurdities you and your loved one experience, and surround yourself with laughter. Your infectious good mood can soothe your loved one.
- Count your blessings. A daily gratitude list can chase away the blues and let you focus on what your loved one is still capable of, rather than the abilities he or she has lost.
- Celebrate what is possible. Your loved one still has many abilities. Structure activities to invite participation on whatever level is possible, and you will both find real enjoyment.
- Try to envision your loved one’s world. Imagine not being able to remember and do life’s simple tasks. By valuing what your loved one is able to give, you can find satisfaction on even the toughest days.
- Don’t let caregiving take over your life. Since it’s easier to accept a difficult situation when there are other areas of your life that are rewarding, it’s important not to let caregiving take over your whole existence.
- Focus on the things you can control. You can’t wish for more hours in the day or force your brother to help out more. Rather than stressing out over things you can’t control, focus on how you choose to react to problems.
- Celebrate the small victories. If you start to feel discouraged, remind yourself that all your efforts matter. You don’t have to cure your loved one’s illness to make a difference. Don’t underestimate the importance of making your loved one feel more safe, comfortable, and loved!