Caregiving is hard no matter what. Alzheimer’s caregivers, however, have an especially difficult job. Not only do people with Alzheimer’s disease have high care needs, they can also be combative, moody, and forget who you are. Giving your all to a loved one’s care only to feel unappreciated for everything you do is frustrating at best, and leads to caregiver burnout at worst.
Since Alzheimer’s caregiving can last for years, caregivers need to make sure they’re making time for their own needs as well as their senior loved ones. Failing to practice self-care while caregiving increases the risk of burnout and leads some family caregivers to develop lasting health problems. Self-care doesn’t have to be complicated, however. These simple practices are some of the most impactful ways you can care for yourself while caring for your loved one.
Don’t try to do it all
When you’re the only one stepping up to care for a senior family member, it feels like there’s no choice but to do everything yourself. But you don’t have to do it all. Ask family for help by making specific requests. Instead of a general appeal for help, ask a relative to chauffeur to a doctor’s appointment, provide respite care for an afternoon, or assist with another task.
If family isn’t willing to help, don’t press the issue — it will only make you bitter. Instead, turn to other resources. If driving your loved one around has become a burden, accessible forms of transportation like medical transport and volunteer driving services can get them where they need to go. If grocery shopping with a dementia patient is too overwhelming, look into grocery delivery services that deliver your shopping list to your doorstep.
Recognize the signs of frustration
Acting out of frustration can lead you to do or say something you regret. Learning to recognize and manage your emotions, on the other hand, allows you to handle difficult situations with grace. It also prevents you from falling into negative thought patterns that harm your mental health.
Feeling impatient, getting a knot in your throat or stomach, and feeling the urge to lash out are signs that you’re growing frustrated. Instead of acting on your frustration, take a moment to step away and collect yourself. Remember that calming down is both a physical and a mental process. In addition to reframing your thoughts, take deep breaths and release physical tension to relax.
See your doctor
In the midst of the many doctor appointments, you make for your senior loved one, have you thought to schedule an appointment for yourself? You shouldn’t put your own health on the back burner, especially considering the ways added stress affects health.
Getting to doctor’s appointments is challenging when you have someone under your care. This is an ideal time to lean on adult day centers; if your loved one is on Medicaid, they may be able to use adult day care at no cost.
Join an online support group
Finding time to spend with friends and family, or even make a phone call, is tough when you’re an Alzheimer’s caregiver. When you do, you may find it difficult to connect with people who don’t understand your experiences. Those relationships are still important, but many dementia caregivers find it helpful to seek support from other family caregivers.
You may not be able to attend in-person support groups, but you can find support and camaraderie online. Look for online support groups where you can share your experiences and get advice from other people caring for loved ones with dementia.
Bubble baths and yoga classes may be out of the question when you’re an Alzheimer’s caregiver, but that doesn’t mean you can’t practice self-care. Self-care can be as simple as taking a deep breath and counting to ten or paying for a cleaning service instead of doing it yourself. What matters is that you’re taking time to honor your own needs so you come out of caregiving with your well-being intact.
Lydia is the co-creator of Alzheimerscaregiver.net, which provides tips and resources to help caregivers.
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