In honor of June being Alzheimer’s and Brain Awareness month, it seemed appropriate to talk about dementia and offer some self-care tips to their dedicated caregivers.
Dementia is a general term for a decline in mental ability severe enough to interfere with daily life. Alzheimer’s, a disease that attacks the brain, is the most common form of dementia. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, an estimated 5.3 million Americans have Alzheimer’s disease. The majority (70 percent) live at home where they receive 75 percent of their care from informal caregivers*. Alzheimer’s caregivers are in more time- and labor-intensive roles than other caregivers and spend an average of 22 hours per week providing care to loved ones**.
Dementia is more than just forgetting things, as people commonly think. In addition to memory problems, individuals with dementia experience challenges in their communications, emotions, and behavior. As their disease progresses, http://www.alz.org/alzheimers_disease_stages_of_alzheimers.asp many people with dementia need help with daily tasks, including things like managing money and medications, cooking, housekeeping, using appliances appropriately, shopping, and pursuing hobbies or leisure activities. They also may experience hallucinations and delusions. You can learn more about each of these topics in the article Coping With Common Problems in Dementia. http://www.dementiacarecentral.com/caregiverinfo/coping
Given the size of the task that they face, it’s no surprise that dementia caregivers are more likely than non-Alzheimer’s caregivers to experience a moderate to high level of emotional stress, suffer worsening health, and have less time for family and friends as a result of caregiving**. Below are ten things that caregivers can do to support their own emotional and physical well-being.
1. Be gracious with yourself. Remember that there is no correct way to provide care. In fact, you probably know your loved one’s needs better than most individuals. Forgive yourself when you experience negative emotions like guilt, anger, and resentment. These are all part of the caregiver’s journey in addition to the love, support, and nurturing you provide.
2. Let it out. Caring for a loved one can be very rewarding, but it also involves many stressors and concerns. Be sure to regularly speak with a friend, spouse, religious leader, a professional counselor, or participate in an online community for those that provide dementia care. Though you might not want to “bother” others, sharing your experiences, thoughts, and emotions may provide perspective, resources, and insight you might not have considered.
3. Eat well. There’s plenty of research demonstrating that healthy eating leads to healthy minds and bodies. It doesn’t have to be only salads for lunch and dinner, but don’t give in to every craving for sugar, fats, and carbs either. A well-balanced diet will help keep your brain and body working well.
4. Exercise. The quickest way to relieve stress is to release endorphins through exercise. This doesn’t mean you need an aggressive workout schedule; it means be sure to move your body for 20-30 minutes doing something not related to chores or cleaning house. Take a walk, do yoga, dance in the living room, go for a swim in a nearby pool. There are many activities you can do at or near home that won’t make it feel like another chore.
5. Sleep well. Sleep and stress can become a vicious cycle — if you’re stressed, then you can’t sleep, and being tired makes the stressors of the next day more acute, leading to more stress. To relieve stress before bed, skip the caffeine starting at about 2 p.m., try some visualization or relaxation techniques, and disconnect from technology as much as possible an hour before bedtime.
6. Find time for yourself. If you live at home with your loved one, it’s important that you can find personal, private time away from him or her. This may be time out of the house visiting friends, going to a movie, or out to a meal. Or maybe it’s finding time before your loved one awakes or after he or she goes to sleep to sit down and enjoy a book, pursue a craft, or play a musical instrument. Supporting your own needs is as vitally important as providing care for others.
7. Breathe deeply. We do it all day, every day, and yet we often forget the healing powers of deep breathing. By slowing down your heart rate and lowering blood pressure, breathing deeply relieves stress. Any form of slow, deep breathing, which can also be achieved in meditation or guided imagery, can help you relax and stay calm.
8. Understand your expectations, triggers, and limits. Think about when and why negative emotions arise. You may not be able to avoid them, but you can change how you deal with and think about them. Remind yourself that your loved one’s behavior is not personal; it is the disease. Focus on the actions that you can take to make things better in the present moment and don’t worry over things you cannot control.
9. Ask and accept help from others. While it may seem like a sign of weakness, asking for help when you need it or accepting help when it’s offered may lead to a healthier environment for everyone. Consider that others want to help you and/or your loved one and allow them to contribute. No need to be a super hero, ask someone to watch your loved one while you take a break.
10. Tap into services. Only 56 percent of dementia caregivers use community services and care options. Inquire in your community about affordable caregiving services, such as delivered meals, transportation, or in-home health services. Respite care may also be a consideration, giving the caregiver a temporary rest, while the loved one continues to receive care in a safe environment.
If you are interested in learning about respite care, nursing homes or assisted living facilities in the Phoenix area, please call an advisor at Priority Placement Services for free services.
By Cathy Chlarson, June 26, 2016