Caregiver stress: finding time for your own well-being
The health effects of Alzheimer’s and other dementia conditions don’t just strike the people with these illnesses. They also impact their overworked caregivers who are susceptible to emotional and physical stress that can lead to serious health issues if not addressed. It is important, then, to recognize the signs of stress in yourself or other caregivers and take the right steps to preserve your own health.
Why is this happening?
Alzheimer’s and similar conditions are progressive. Although there may be periods of improvement, the trajectory is inevitably toward long-term, around-the-clock care. For caregivers who try to do too much, especially when faced with the emotional toll of seeing a loved one deteriorate or encountering challenging behavior such as angry outbursts, the result can be exhaustion, burnout, depression or physical illness.
How should you respond?
It’s important to recognize the signs of stress in your life as a caregiver before you become completely overwhelmed. When you feel yourself reaching your limit, it’s possible to take steps to take care of yourself.
Learn to recognize these signs of stress:
- Feeling tired most of the time
- Lack of sufficient sleep
- Staying in bed or oversleeping
- Feeling overwhelmed
- Lack of interest in favorite activities
- Excessive weight gain or loss
Get the help you need
No one can do it all. If you’re feeling overwhelmed by the demands of being a caregiver, seek out resources to help share the load. Remember, if you don’t take care of your own health, you won’t be able to continue to give your loved one with dementia the care they need.
Steps to take if you’re stressed:
Ask for help
Friends and neighbors may be willing to help you if you only accept it. If possible, delegate some duties to other people, such as the occasional grocery trip or an outing with your loved one.
A healthy diet and regular exercise is as important as ever when you are a caregiver. Try to fit in physical activity on a regular basis and schedule bedtime so you’re getting enough sleep. Also see your doctor when necessary and tell him or her that you’re a caregiver. Your physician might have some ideas to help you stay healthy.
Very soon, resources available from Life in the Moment will let you interact and get support from caregivers around the country. Until then, you can connect locally with Alzheimer’s support groups and health facilities in your area to explore resources and advice from people facing the same stresses as you. You should also stay emotionally connected with friends and family, making time for socializing or just the occasional talk to share your feelings.
Don’t sweat the small stuff
You can only do what you’re able — and no more. If that means being less than a perfect housekeeper or not getting the Christmas cards out this year, don’t worry. In your current situation, there is no place for guilt or second-guessing about whether you are doing enough.
Asking for help is hard. But it’s essential. Going it alone as a caregiver can lead to feelings of frustration and isolation. Always remember you’re not alone. Help is out there when you’re feeling stressed and at the end of your rope.