Caring for a person with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia is physically, mentally, and emotionally taxing, but it is also rewarding in that your bond with your loved one deepens through care, companionship, and service. The added challenges of caring for someone with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia is that you have to witness the dissolving of your loved ones memories, and watch as they go through drastic behavioural changes, and slowly lose the ability to be independent. This emotional rollercoaster of confusion, frustration, anger, and sadness is felt by both caretaker and loved one, and it is exhausting. People who live with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia are very often completely reliant on their Alzheimer’s carers, requiring assistance with simple everyday tasks such as bathing, eating, and in some instances, for mobility. As the disease advances, so their needs will increase and the carers responsibilities become more challenging, and with that the risk of caretaker burnout.
It’s important for Alzheimer’s carers to recognise the symptoms of stress and burnout, so that they can do something about it before they become ill, depressed, or severely stressed. Here are some of the more obvious signs of stress in Alzheimer’s carers:
- Feeling exhausted all the time
- Getting ill more than they would usually
- Not sleeping easily or enough
- Feeling more irritable or becoming forgetful
- Not enjoying the things they usually enjoy
- Withdrawing from others
The kind of people who become Alzheimer’s carers are generally sensitive, selfless, and compassionate, who often give too much and end up neglecting themselves in the process. There are ways to mitigate stress and caregiver burnout, and self-care plays a large role in this. Here are some tips to help balance your personal and caregiving life.
If you are willing to hire someone to help you, such as another Alzheimer’s carer, or simply someone to help out with other chores, errands, or childcare, do so to free up some time for yourself and share the burden of tasks. If family and friends, or members of your support groups offer their help, take them up on it. Draw up a list of tasks you can use some help with and let them see what they are available to do. If you aren’t already a part of a support group for Alzheimer’s carers, then look for one in your area. You can learn a lot from others who are tackling the same challenges as you, and it helps to be able to reduce the feelings of isolation, fear, and hopelessness that come with being an Alzheimer’s carer.
Make yourself a priority by regularly taking a break from your Alzheimer’s carer duties. Spend more time with people who are important to you, as these supportive relationships are crucial to your own health and well-being. Many caregivers feel guilty for taking time for themselves, which is why support groups are so effective for sharing these feelings and learning how to cope.
Prioritise healthy habits
Take a moment to re-evaluate your own health, as the stress of being an Alzheimer’s carer can lead to some unhealthy habits forming such as smoking, drinking too much alcohol, relying on prescription medicines too much, or not getting enough sleep. Prioritise your health by making time to exercise, eating healthily, drinking lots of water, and getting enough sleep. If you don’t have enough time for all of these then you need to accept more help with your caring responsibilities.
It is incredibly important for Alzheimer’s carers to pay close attention to their physical and mental health, as several studies have shown that caregivers are at an increased risk for depression and anxiety.