While caring for an older family member – whether it be a spouse, parent or grandparent – can be a rewarding experience, it can also be a difficult and overwhelming task. This is especially true if your loved one lives with Alzheimer’s disease or other dementia-related illnesses.
Whether it’s out of love or obligation, caring for a chronically ill or disabled family member (and potentially his or her financial and legal interests) can come at the expense of the caregiver’s quality of life. In addition to maintaining a healthy, active lifestyle outside of caregiving responsibilities, it is important for those caring for a loved one to learn ways to avoid health hazards and stay well-informed of any changes in their loved one’s condition. Add work and children to care for to the equation and it’s a formula that can lead to stress, exhaustion and even potential health issues.
The additional duties often required to provide care for a loved one can lead to physical or emotional fatigue, often referred to as “caregiver burnout.” If you’re caring for an older adult, the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America recommends these tips to help manage stress before caregiving leads to burnout.
Know the signs of burnout. By the time many caregivers suspect signs of burnout, they’re likely already suffering symptoms related to their responsibilities. Being aware of some of the warning signs can help caregivers properly manage stress and protect themselves. Warning signs include:
- Overwhelming fatigue or lack of energy
- Experiencing sleep issues
- Significant changes in eating habits or weight
- Losing interest in activities you once enjoyed
- Neglecting personal physical and emotional needs
- Becoming unusually impatient, irritable or argumentative
- Having anxiety about the future or a feeling of hopelessness
- Suffering from headaches, stomachaches or other physical ailments
- Experiencing depression or mood swings
- Having difficulty coping with everyday tasks
- Lower resistance to illnesses
Educate yourself about the disease. It’s likely the loved one you care for has several health problems, takes multiple medications and sees multiple health care providers to manage his or her conditions. As a first step in learning more about Alzheimer’s disease and other dementia-related illnesses, visit alzfdn.org or nia.nih.gov/alzheimers for information. Support groups, educational workshops, community resources and professionals can also help increase your understanding of the disease and what to expect so you can be a better-informed and prepared caregiver.
Be prepared for important decisions. Take care of financial, legal and long-term care planning issues early on to help reduce stress later. Try to involve the individual in decision-making if he or she is capable, and consider personal wishes regarding future care and end-of-life issues.
Build your care skills. Key skills for any caregiver include communication, understanding safety considerations and behaviors, and managing activities of daily living such as bathing, toileting and dressing. Some organizations and local hospitals may even offer classes specific to your loved one’s disease that can aid you in the process.
Develop empathy. Try to understand what it is like to be a person living with Alzheimer’s or dementia. Put yourself in the affected person’s shoes while also recognizing your own losses. Manage your expectations of your loved one and remain patient.
Ask for help when you need it. Reach out to medical and mental health professionals as well as family and friends. They can assist you when things get tough. In addition, there are typically programs, agencies and organizations in your community that can help manage the challenges of caring for older parents, grandparents, spouses and other older adults.
Advocate for and connect with your loved one. Take an active role in the individual’s medical care. Get to know the care team, ask questions, express concerns and discuss treatment options. Also remember to connect on a personal level through kindness, humor and creativity, which are essential parts of caregiving and can help reduce stress.
Think positive. Focus on the capabilities and strengths that are still intact and enjoy your relationship with your loved one while you are still together. Look for ways to include him or her in your daily routines and gatherings to make as many memories as possible.
Find more caregiver resources and tips at alzfdn.org.
Tips for Managing Caregiver Stress
Stress can affect anyone and caregivers may find themselves faced with additional stressors. To help manage stress and avoid caregiver burnout, keep these tips from the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America in mind:
- Maintain a positive attitude
- Be flexible and accept the circumstances
- Be honest and open about your feelings
- Take it one day at a time
- Get a good night’s sleep
- Incorporate stress management techniques, such as meditation or deep breathing, as well as exercise into your daily routine
- Drink plenty of water and eat a healthful diet full of fruits and vegetables
- Set realistic goals and go slow
Getting Help with Caregiving
Everyone needs a break from time to time, even caregivers. Look into respite programs for a chance to care for yourself. Types of respite include:
- Home care is often initiated by a doctor’s order or hospital stay and administered by medical professionals who come into the home and help with personal care and housekeeping functions.
- Medicare covers some home health services.
Adult Day Programs
- Social-model programs offer stimulation, socialization and therapeutic activities in a community-based group setting and often include meals.
- Medical-model programs (adult day health care programs), offer health-based services as well as social activities in a group setting.
- Some programs include assistance with activities of daily living and transportation.
- Adult day services charge per hour and may be covered under some long-term care insurance policies.
- Medicaid covers some adult day health programs.
- Provide a short stay for your loved one in a nursing home or another facility.
- Facilities typically charge for each day your loved one is in their care.
- Medicare or Medicaid may cover some costs of an inpatient facility.
Family and Friends
- Identify responsible family members and friends who can lend a hand in providing supervision for your loved one and create a rotating care schedule, if possible.
- Enlist the help of family members living in different states by assigning them tasks such as legal or financial paperwork.