September is World Alzheimer’s Month. Though we have all heard it, know it, and understand it rationally, it is most difficult for us to truly care for ourselves when a loved one who has Alzheimer’s disease is dependent on us. We feel as though no one can care for them the way we do, or the way he/she prefers, or that being apart will make matters worse. There is also a tremendous amount of guilt that comes with caring for someone with Alzheimer’s. The guilt can come from having to ask others for help, not being able to do or provide enough, or for just wanting time for yourself. That guilt can wreak havoc on the psyche as well as the physical health of someone in the caregiver role. Guilt leads to overdoing, creates stress, and ultimately wears down the mind, body, and spirit of the caregiver. Without rejuvenation this relationship can only further be damaging to both the caregiver and the recipient. Despite the best of intentions, a weary caregiver is not able to provide optimal care.
10 SYMPTOMS OF CAREGIVER STRESS
1. Denial about the disease and its effect on the person who has been diagnosed.
I know Mom is going to get better.
2. Anger at the person with Alzheimer’s or frustration that he or she can’t do the things they used to be able to do.
He knows how to get dressed — he’s just being stubborn.
3. Social withdrawal from friends and activities that used to make you feel good.
I don’t care about visiting with the neighbors anymore.
4. Anxiety about the future and facing another day.
What happens when he needs more care than I can provide?
5. Depression that breaks your spirit and affects your ability to cope.
I just don’t care anymore.
6. Exhaustion that makes it nearly impossible to complete necessary daily tasks.
I’m too tired for this.
7. Sleeplessness caused by a never-ending list of concerns.
What if she wanders out of the house or falls and hurts herself?
8. Irritability that leads to moodiness and triggers negative responses and actions.
Leave me alone!
9. Lack of concentration that makes it difficult to perform familiar tasks.
I was so busy, I forgot my appointment.
10. Health problems that begin to take a mental and physical toll.
I can’t remember the last time I felt good.
If you experience any of these signs of stress on a regular basis, make time to talk to your doctor.
TIPS TO MANAGE STRESS
If you experience signs of stress on a regular basis, consult your doctor. Ignoring symptoms can cause your physical and mental health to decline.
Know what resources are available.
Adult day programs, in-home assistance, visiting nurses and meal delivery are just some of the services that can help you manage daily tasks. Use our online Community Resource Finder or contact your local Alzheimer’s Association chapter for assistance in finding Alzheimer’s care resources in your community. Use Alzheimer’s Navigator, our free online tool that helps evaluate your needs, identify action steps and connect with local programs and services.
Trying to do everything by yourself will leave you exhausted. Seek the support of family, friends and caregivers going through similiar experiences. Tell others exactly what they can do to help. The Alzheimer’s Association 24/7 Helpline (800.272.3900), online message boards and local support groups are good sources of comfort and reassurance.
Use relaxation techniques.
There are several simple relaxation techniques that can help relieve stress. Try more than one to find which works best for you. Techniques include:
Visualization (mentally picturing a place or situation that is peaceful and calm)
Meditation (which can be as simple as dedicating 15 minutes a day to letting go of all stressful thoughts)
Breathing exercises (slowing your breathing and focusing on taking deep breaths)
Progressive muscle relaxation (tightening and then relaxing each muscle group, starting at one end of your body and working your way to the other end)
Physical activity — in any form — can help reduce stress and improve overall well-being. Even 10 minutes of exercise a day can help. Take a walk. Do an activity you love, such as gardening or dancing.
Make time for yourself.
As a caregiver, it’s hard to find time for yourself, but staying connected to friends, family and activities that you love is important for your well-being. Even if it’s only 30 minutes a week, carve out a pocket of time just for yourself.
Become an educated caregiver.
As the disease progresses, new caregiving skills may be necessary. The Alzheimer’s Association offers programs to help you better understand and cope with the behaviors and personality changes that often accompany Alzheimer’s. You may also find it helpful to talk to other care partners and caregivers about how they are coping with the challenges of the disease and uncertainty about the future.
Jessica Hickman, RN, BSN, QMHP
OakBend Medical Center Registered Nurse/Qualified Mental Health Professional
Alzheimer’s and Dementia Caregiver Center at http://www.alz.org
Disclaimer: The contents of this article, including text and images, are for informational purposes only and do not constitute a medical service. Always seek the advice of a physician or other qualified health professional for medical advice, diagnosis, and treatment.