Alzheimer’s and other forms dementia caregivers devote a significant amount of time and energy to the person with Alzheimer’s disease. Too often, caregivers do not recognize their own needs, fail to do anything about them or do not know where to turn for help.
Warning signs of caregiver stress:
Denial about the disease and its effect on the person who’s been diagnosed can be a warning sign. For example, I know Mom is going to get better.
Anger at the person with Alzheimer’s or others; anger that no cure exists or that people don’t understand what’s happening. For instance, if he asks me that one more time I’ll scream!
Social withdrawal from friends and activities that once brought pleasure. For instance, I don’t care about getting together with the neighbors anymore.
Anxiety about facing another day and about the future. An example, what happens when he needs more care than I can provide?
Depression begins to break your spirit and affects your ability to cope. For instance, I don’t care anymore.
Exhaustion makes it nearly impossible to complete necessary daily tasks. For example, I’m too tired for this.
Sleeplessness caused by a never-ending list of concerns. An example, what if she wanders out of the house or falls and hurts herself?
Irritability leads to moodiness and triggers negative responses and actions. For instance, leave me alone!
Lack of concentration makes it difficult to perform familiar tasks. An example, I was so busy; I forgot we had an appointment.
Health problems begin to take a mental and physical toll. For example, I can’t remember the last time I felt good.
How to manage stress
Understand what’s happening as early as possible. Symptoms of Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia may appear gradually. It can be easy to explain away changing or unusual behavior when someone seems physically healthy. Instead, consult a doctor when you see changes in memory, mood or behavior. Don’t delay; some symptoms are treatable.
Know what community resources are available. Contact the Alzheimer’s Association or use our online Community Resource Finder (communityresourcefinder.org) to find Alzheimer’s care resources in your community. Adult day programs, in-home assistance, visiting nurses and meal delivery are just some of the services that can help you manage daily tasks.
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. Visit alz.org/care to learn more about care training resources, including free e-learning workshops.
Get help. Trying to do everything by yourself will leave you exhausted. Seek the support of family, friends and community resources. Use our free, personalized online Care Team Calendar (alz.org/carecalendar) to organize family and friends who want to help. Our 24/7 Helpline, ALZConnectedTM online social networking community (alzconnected.org) and local support groups are good sources for finding comfort and reassurance. If stress becomes overwhelming, seek professional help.
Take care of yourself. Watch your diet, exercise and get plenty of rest. Making sure that you stay healthy will help you be a better caregiver.
Manage your level of stress. Stress can cause physical problems (blurred vision, stomach irritation, high blood pressure) and changes in behavior (irritability, lack of concentration, and change in appetite). Note your symptoms. Use relaxation techniques that work for you, and talk to your doctor.
Accept changes as they occur. People with Alzheimer’s change and so do their needs. They may require care beyond what you can provide on your own. Becoming aware of community resources — from home care services to residential care — should make the transition easier. So will the support and assistance of those around you.
Make legal and financial plans. Plan ahead. Consult a professional to discuss legal and financial issues including advance directives, wills, estate planning, housing issues and long-term care planning. Involve the person with dementia and family members whenever possible. Use Alzheimer’s NavigatorTM (alzheimersnavigator.org) to help assess your needs and create a customized action plan.
Give yourself credit, not guilt. Know that the care you provide does make a difference and you are doing the best you can. You may feel guilty because you can’t do more, but individual care needs to change as Alzheimer’s progresses. You can’t promise how care will be delivered, but you can make sure that the person with Alzheimer’s is well cared for and safe.
Visit your doctor regularly. Take time to get regular checkups, and be aware of what your body is telling you. Pay attention to any exhaustion, stress, sleeplessness or changes in appetite or behavior. Ignoring symptoms can cause your physical and mental health to decline.
We Can Help
The Alzheimer’s Association is the leading voluntary health organization in Alzheimer care, support and research. Our mission is to eliminate Alzheimer’s disease through the advancement of research; to provide and enhance care and support for all affected; and to reduce the risk of dementia through the promotion of brain health. For more information, visit www.alz.org or call the chapter office at (402) 420-2540, or call our 24/7 Helpline: (800) 272-3900.