Ask anyone caring for a loved one with a serious illness what they do for self-care, and you’ll probably hear laughter in response. Self-care can be tough in the best of circumstances, but it’s especially difficult for people who spend the majority of their time caring for someone else. Dementia and Alzheimer’s caregivers are no exception.

Family caregivers are at increased risk for depression and excessive use of alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs. Caregiving can be an emotional roller coaster. On the one hand, caring for your family member demonstrates love and commitment and can be a very rewarding personal experience. On the other hand, exhaustion, worry, inadequate resources, and continuous care demands are enormously stressful. Recognizing caregiver burnout is also important.

Self-care options for caregivers

  1. Talk to someone. Allow yourself that emotional release by expressing your feelings to someone close to you or a trained professional.
  2. Visit a friend and talk about something other than caregiving. It can be hard to leave the house when you’re caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s disease, both because of logistics and guilt. But you need some connection with the outside world so you don’t lose yourself in the (very important) job of caregiving.
  3. Put self-care time in your calendar and stick to it like you would a meeting with someone else.
  4. Look into respite care, then actually use it. Respite care offers caregivers short-term breaks ranging from a few hours to even weeks.
  5. Several caregivers say that their own checkups, annual visits, and regular exams rarely or never happened when they were caring for a loved one. Keeping up with medical appointments is very important.
  6. Keep up with the hobbies and interests that you love. Read a book, meditate, pray, garden, knit, get a massage, take a long bath, anything that you enjoy doing.

When you’re driving and notice your petrol tank is empty, you will fill it up. Sometimes we are kinder to our car than we are to ourselves! Try to take some time to fill your tank, even if it is for only 5 minutes – it will make a difference. Do whatever makes you feel like you again, it doesn’t have to be something crazy. Self-care does not need to be a big thing something simple as taking a moment to put on your favourite hand cream or listen to your favourite song on full blast helps. Self-care is not selfish it is self-love.

It’s important to remember that only when we first help ourselves can we effectively help others. Caring for yourself is one of the most important—and one of the most often forgotten—things you can do as a caregiver. When your needs are taken care of, the person you care for will benefit, too.