Watching a family member’s health decline is difficult. Doubly so when trying to care for them leaves you feeling isolated and alone. An increasing number of people are finding themselves in this situation as the average age in this country continues to climb.
The number of seniors receiving a diagnosis of dementia is also rising. When you are the caregiver for a family elder who has Alzheimer’s disease, the days can be lonely and stressful. Because some of the unique behaviors caused by the disease can be tough to manage, family caregivers often isolate themselves in order to protect their loved one’s dignity and keep them safe.
Caregivers often know they should ask for help managing their responsibilities, but many feel duty bound to do it on their own. While you are busy caring for your family member, it’s important to take care of yourself too. Remind yourself that failing to do so may result in a health crisis of your own.
Research and Statistics on Alzheimer’s Caregivers
Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia. While you’re probably somewhat familiar with the disease, you may not be aware of how many lives are impacted. The statistics on Alzheimer’s are startling. Researchers say more than 6 million people in this country have the disease. It is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States.
While advancements in prevention and treatment have reduced the prevalence of some diseases, Alzheimer’s is not declining. Researchers haven’t yet succeeded in finding a cure or treatment for Alzheimer’s disease. As a result, it continues to claim more lives every day. In fact, between 2000 and 2017, deaths from Alzheimer’s increased by 145%.
Families across the country are struggling to find ways to help a loved one with the disease live their best quality of life. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, over 16 million Americans are unpaid caregivers for an adult with Alzheimer’s. Every year, they provide over 18 billion hours of care that would otherwise cost $234 billion.
While caring for a loved one is a labor of love, the burden of being an Alzheimer’s caregiver can be heavy. It’s important to accept that both of these can be true and to take steps to protect your own health and well-being.
Dementia and Alzheimer’s Caregiver Guide
What can you, as a caregiver, do to take better care of yourself?
We have a few dementia caregiver tips that may help lower Alzheimer’s caregiver stress levels so you can continue to provide your family member with the best quality of care:
- Get organized: Part of the stress experienced by dementia caregivers stems from worrying about how to successfully manage their loved one’s medication schedule and healthcare appointments. Establishing a system that you feel confident in can help alzheimer’s caregivers reduce anxiety. Some people prefer to set up a binder with sections marked for medical history, current medications, physician contact information, and upcoming appointments. If you are comfortable with technology, a few caregiver apps to explore are CareZone and Caring Village.
- Eat a balanced diet: Trading a healthy diet for convenience foods is one of the first sacrifices caregivers often make. When time is short, it’s easy to rely on fast food restaurants and processed foods at meal time. Unfortunately, these choices often contain high amounts of unhealthy fats and sodium. Consider cooking healthy meals in batches and freezing them. You might also want to explore meal delivery services or local restaurants that offer healthy entrees to go.
- Exercise regularly: While exercising might seem like a luxury you don’t have time for, it’s vital for protecting an Alzheimer’s caregiver’s health. The benefits of regular exercise include better quality of sleep, increased stamina, and reduced stress. Exercise also builds muscle strength, which helps lower your risk for a caregiving-related injury. The good news is, if you can’t find 30 continuous minutes a day to devote to exercise, you can break it up into 10- or 15-minute blocks of time. A 15-minute walk in the morning, combined with 15 minutes of yoga in the evening, offers as many health benefits as 30 straight minutes of either exercise.
- Make time for laughter: Alzheimer’s can take a significant emotional toll on a family caregiver. It’s tough to watch a cherished family member slowly succumb to the challenges of Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia. Making time to enjoy a few laughs with friends and loved ones may help you cope better. Whether it is treating yourself to a spa day with the girls or spending a night at the movies to catch the latest comedy with your spouse, try to find ways to laugh every day.
- Join a support group: The struggle to balance so many responsibilities is one reason dementia caregivers may benefit from connecting with a support group. Whether it is an in-person dementia caregiver support group or an online forum, engaging with a group of peers who can understand and relate to your challenges is essential. Call your area agency on aging or the local chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association to learn when and where support groups meet in your community. You can also explore online forums such as ALZConnected.
Effects of Alzheimer’s Disease on Caregivers
While providing care for someone you love can be rewarding, it isn’t uncommon for caregivers to wind up suffering health problems of their own. A few of the medical issues most frequently experienced by caregivers include:
- Migraines and tension headaches
- Digestive issues and stomachaches
- Unintended weight loss or gain
- Back and knee problems
- Hypertension (aka high blood pressure)
- Insomnia or another sleep problem
When you are a caregiver, taking steps to protect your own health is essential.
Respite Care Options for People with Alzheimer’s
Caregivers are often reluctant to seek help. Give yourself permission to do so. Instead of viewing it as your duty to handle everything by yourself, try to accept that allowing others to assist will make you a better caregiver. You will be better equipped mentally and physically if you are not completely exhausted and stressed out.
If you don’t have a family support system you can turn to, enlisting the services of a home care agency can be a solution. Home care agencies, including Griswold, offer respite care for dementia caregivers. Respite provides short-term Alzheimer’s caregiver support so you have time to take a break.
Resources for Alzheimer’s Family Caregivers
Several nonprofit organizations are dedicated to serving adults with Alzheimer’s disease and the people who care for them. Both have comprehensive caregiver resources for dementia to explore and share, including:
Other organizations focus part of their efforts on research and education for Alzheimer’s and dementia, such as:
In sharing these dementia and Alzheimer’s caregiver tips, we hope to remind you that you aren’t alone. Support is available. Griswold Home Care has locations across the country and local experts you can turn to for help. Call the office nearest you to learn more.