If you are in the role of primary caregiver for a loved one with Alzheimer’s disease, you may feel overwhelmed and beset with a wide array of emotions – sadness, anxiety, hopelessness and even anger are common. You can take heart in knowing that these feeling are considered normal and you are not alone. Today, more and more families are facing this situation as increasing numbers of older Americans are living longer than ever before.
As a caregiver, it is very easy to become so overburdened that you neglect your own health. But experts say the best thing you can do for your loved one is to stay physically and emotionally healthy. The good news is there are many things you can do to cope to help maintain your own well-being while also enabling you to provide better care and support for your loved one.
Important Tips to Help You Cope
The Alzheimer’s Association and other experts in the field offer a variety of tips to help you cope with the stresses of caregiving and better enable you to care for your loved one:
Manage your stress – It is important to be aware of how stress affects your body and your emotions in order to avoid burnout. Find ways to relax that work best for you, e.g. yoga, exercise, music, gardening, outings with friends and taking time for yourself. You deserve it and you also need it.
Ask for help and support – No one can do it all! Frequently, friends and relatives want to help, but don’t know how. Take them up on their offers, but be specific in asking for their assistance, e.g. pick up mom’s prescriptions on Tuesday or take dad to get his haircut once a month.
Be realistic – The care you give is valuable and does make a difference, but many of your loved one’s behaviors simply can’t be controlled. Decide what you can and cannot do and set priorities to take care of the most important things.
Expect and prepare for communication problems – Be as clear and concise as possible in your communication and avoid noises and distractions to the greatest extent possible. Repeat things as needed and use the same words. Keep your communication as simple as possible and use actual names rather than pronouns such as “he” and “she.”
Enjoy the good times together – Familiar activities are generally enjoyable to those with Alzheimer’s. For as long as your loved one is able, continue to socialize, travel, be physically active and participate in activities that are enjoyable to both of you.
Relive enjoyable memories – Reminiscing is a recognized technique for assisting Alzheimer’s patients whose long-term memories are often intact. Discuss people and places that are familiar and create pleasant feelings for your loved one. Watch family videos, look at photographs or review trips and special moments from the past.
Give yourself credit – Resist the urge to feel guilty. It’s normal to lose patience or feel like your care may fall short sometimes. Remember, you’re only human and you’re doing the best you can.
Give yourself a break – It’s perfectly normal to need a break from caregiving duties. No one can do it all by themselves. Look into respite care to allow some free time to take care of yourself and your own needs.
Be accepting of change – Because Alzheimer’s is a progressive disease, your loved one will eventually need more care than you can provide. Take some time to research available memory care options now so you are prepared for the changes as they occur.
Other Useful Self-Help Suggestions from Professionals
Be knowledgeable – Stay in control of the situation by knowing what to expect. The more you know about Alzheimer’s, the better prepared you will be to face future changes and challenges that occur.
It’s OK to grieve – It is a perfectly normal for you to feel a sense of grief and loss, even while your loved one is alive. Joining a caregiver support group can help you to share your experiences with others, vent your feelings and learn about how they cope.
Take care of important family matters – Try to take care of financial and legal arrangements that follow your loved one’s wishes early on. Knowing you are following through with his/her wishes will bring you comfort throughout the process.
Recognizing and addressing the signs and symptoms of caregiver stress is very important. Take advantage of recommended coping mechanisms, and if you are experiencing anger, social withdrawal, anxiety, depression, exhaustion, sleeplessness, irritability or other serious health problems, you should speak with your family physician. Help is available in many forms, and you should not suffer needlessly when caring for your loved one.
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