Caring for Caregivers

Caring for someone with Alzheimer’s disease impacts every aspect of daily life. As Alzheimer’s patients lose one ability after another, caregivers face tests of stamina, problem-solving, and resiliency. During this long and difficult journey, communication diminishes, rewards decrease, and, without strong support, caregivers face challenges to their own well-being.

Maintaining emotional and physical fitness is crucial. Preparing and protecting yourself, working to understand your loved one’s experience, and embracing help from others can minimize the hazards and enhance the joys of your caregiving experience.

As a caregiver, it’s common to focus so much on the person in your care that you neglect to take care of yourself.

However, taking care of yourself must become a priority, so that you can live healthily and happily and can give the best care to the person with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia.

When we were researching for ways to give you some ideas on physical fitness, we came across a brand new program called Go4Life by the National Institute on Aging (NIA).

This government agency had already put together a whole program for keeping senior citizens physically fit, and it just so happens that it works very well with caregivers.

We have partnered up with them to bring you the most advanced system on helping keep yourself in great physical shape.

And best of all, the Go4Life program is 100% free. The National Institute on Aging put this program together for everyone to take advantage of at no cost to caregivers. Go4Life is an example of putting the taxpayers’ dollars to good use.

The Go4Life program will not only keep you in great physical shape, it can help keep you in a great state of mind as well.

The NIA and its Go4Life program is designed so you can keep track of your progress. Whether you are new to an exercise program or you are an expert, the Go4Life program has a plan for you. You can start out slow and grow at your own pace.

The most important thing to keep in mind is that this Go4Life program will not only to help you but will help you be a better caregiver by keeping you in your best form, both in body and spirit.

Here are some common ways you can care for yourself:

  • Find someone—a friend or counselor—who can listen and give you new ideas and a fresh perspective.
  • Attend conferences and lectures about Alzheimer’s disease or join a support group with other people who are going through the same thing.
  • Hire more help or enlist more family involvement.
  • Consider enrolling the person in your care in an adult day care program.
  • Claim time for yourself and make sure you use it.
  • Make and keep doctors’ appointments for yourself.
  • Join a caregiver support group.
  • Take advantage of respite care opportunities.
  • Take advantage of the Go4Life exercise program.

One of the key things to watch out for is stress. Stress occurs as a result of too many pressures that demand too much of you. The stress of caregiving can be overwhelming. If you feel guilty, resentful, sad, frightened, or just in over your head all the time, your stress level will be high. However, it is natural for caregivers to experience these feelings from time to time.

If stress builds up without being managed, you may become depressed, ill, isolated, and unable to provide care for the person with dementia or yourself. Caregivers are frequently told to take care of themselves, so think of ways you can incorporate some of the following to comfort yourself: prayer or spiritual practice, talking with friends or relatives, exercise, hobbies, meditation, mindful breathing, yoga, walking, and seeking professional help or counseling. It is important to get help and support from other family members. Find a way to get respite from caregiving before you reach the point when you feel your life is out of control.

Do not be afraid to ask for and accept help.

We cannot stress (no pun intended) this enough.

Talk to the doctor. Find out what treatments might help control symptoms or address behavior problems. Find a support group. Others who have “been there” may be able to help and will understand.

If there are times of day that the person is less confused or more cooperative, take advantage of that in daily routines. Consider using adult day care or respite services. These offer a break with the peace of mind that the patient is being taken care of. Begin to plan for the future. This may include the following:

  • Getting financial and legal documents in order
  • Looking into independent living, assisted living centers, or nursing homes
  • Finding out what your health insurance and Medicare will cover

Protecting yourself from burnout during Alzheimer’s care

From the first acknowledgement of mental changes to your loved one’s ultimate death, you are likely to experience a challenging constellation of emotions, mind-numbing exhaustion, and altered relationships for a number of years.

Warning signs of caregiver burnout:

  • excessive stress and tension
  • debilitating depression
  • persistent anxiety, anger or guilt
  • extreme irritability or anger with the patient
  • decreased overall life satisfaction
  • relationship conflicts and social isolation
  • lower immunity and greater need for healthcare services
  • excessive use of medications, drugs, or alcohol

Because caregiving is such hard work, you must learn to protect yourself first. These simple strategies will fit into your most demanding days and can energize you against the pitfalls of excessive stress:

  • Schedule mini-workouts throughout the day. Regular exercise not only keeps you fit, it releases endorphins that keep you happy. Ten-minute sessions sprinkled over the course of the day are easier to schedule than an hour away. Look for library videos, websites, and TV programs to keep your routines varied and motivating.
  • Take time to play. In the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease, include your loved one in short walks, board games, or jigsaw puzzles. Join an online Scrabble tournament, practice your golf swing, or master the yo-yo. A daily dose of fun is good medicine, and doesn’t require money, a car, or huge blocks of time.
  • Try something new. Challenge yourself to learn a new skill while you are “on the job.” Order a self-paced foreign language program and you will count to 100 in no time. Join the video game fitness craze to try a new sport. From singing to bowling to pitching a strike, systems like the Nintendo Wii offer living room-friendly activities for every age and skill level. With just a few minutes of practice each day, you can flex mental muscles and release harmful steam.
  • Keep ’em laughing. Humor is a well-known antidote to stress, sadness, illness, and boredom. Give yourself permission to chuckle at the absurdities you and your loved one experience, and surround yourself with laughter. Avoid heavy dramas at the video store and go for a hearty belly laugh. Your infectious good mood will replenish your inner resources and soothe your loved one.
  • Ask for help. For someone who is used to operating independently, the realities of caring for someone with Alzheimer’s disease can be a real eye-opener. People with strong support systems, creative respite arrangements, and regular time away not only fare better, they also find more satisfaction in their caretaking roles. Join a support group, schedule frequent breaks, and seek professional help if you recognize yourself in the warning signs of caregiver “burnout.”

Making time for reflection during Alzheimer’s care

Reflecting and thinking clearly while someone you love slowly disappears is tough, but this emotionally charged experience also brings tremendous opportunity for growth, satisfaction, and love. By accepting each new reality and learning to hush your inner chatter, you can make conscious choices that promote happiness and improve quality of life.

Below is an article written by the Mayo Clinic regarding “stress” in a caregiver’s life.

Caregiver stress: Tips for taking care of yourself
Caring for a loved one can be a strain on even the most resilient individuals. If you’re a caregiver, take steps to preserve your own health and well-being.
By Mayo Clinic staff

When you hear the word “caregiver” you probably picture someone caring for a parent with Alzheimer’s disease. But a caregiver is anyone who provides help to another person in need, whether that’s an ill spouse or partner, a disabled child, or an aging relative. Indeed, more than 65 million Americans provide care to a loved one.

If you’re among them, you know that taking care of someone who needs your assistance can be very rewarding. But it can also exact a high toll, and caregiver stress is common. Caregiver stress is the emotional and physical strain of caregiving. Individuals who experience the most caregiver stress are the most vulnerable to a decline in their own health.

Many caregivers fall into the trap of believing that they have to do everything by themselves. Don’t make that mistake. Take advantage of the many resources and tools available. Remember, if you don’t take care of yourself, you won’t be able to care for anyone else.

Signs of Caregiver stress

As a caregiver, you may be so focused on your loved one that you don’t realize that your own health and well-being are suffering. Watch for these signs of caregiver stress:

  • Feeling tired most of the time
  • Feeling overwhelmed and irritable
  • Sleeping too much or too little
  • Gaining or losing a lot of weight
  • Losing interest in activities you used to enjoy

Too much stress, especially over a long time, can harm your health. As a caregiver, you’re more likely to experience symptoms of depression or anxiety. In addition, you may not get enough physical activity or eat a balanced diet, which only increases your risk of medical problems, such as heart disease and diabetes.

Tips for dealing with Caregiver stress

The emotional and physical demands involved with caregiving can strain even the most capable person. That’s why it’s so important to take advantage of available help and support. These tips have helped others deal with caregiver stress:

  • Accept help. Be prepared with a list of ways that others can help you and let the helper choose what he or she would like to do. For instance, one person might be happy to take the person you care for on a walk a couple of times a week. Someone else might offer to pick up groceries for you.
  • Don’t give in to guilt. Feeling guilty is normal, but understand that no one is a “perfect” caregiver. You’re doing the best you can at any given time. Your house does not have to be perfect, and no one will care if you eat leftovers three days in a row. And you don’t have to feel guilty about asking for help.
  • Get informed. Organizations such as the Red Cross and the Alzheimer’s Association offer classes on caregiving, and local hospitals may have classes specifically about the disease your loved one is facing.
  • Join a support group. A support group can be a great source for encouragement and advice from others in similar situations. It can also be a good place to make new friends.
  • Stay connected. Make an effort to stay in touch with family and friends. Set aside time each week for socializing, even if it’s just a walk with a friend. Whenever possible, make plans that get you out of the house.
  • Commit to staying healthy. Find time to be physically active on most days of the week, and don’t neglect your need for a good night’s sleep. It’s also crucial to eat a healthy diet.
  • See your doctor. Get recommended immunizations and screenings. Make sure to tell your doctor that you’re a caregiver. Don’t hesitate to mention any concerns or symptoms you have.
  • Respite care. It may be hard to imagine leaving your loved one in someone else’s care, but taking a break is one of the best things you can do, for yourself as well as the person you’re caring for. Most communities have some type of respite care available, such as
  • Adult care centers. Many adult care centers are located in churches or community centers. Some care centers provide care for both elderly adults and young children, and the two groups may spend time together.
  • Day hospitals. These hospitals provide medical care during the day. In the evening, your loved one returns home.
  • In-home respite. Health care aides come to your home to provide companionship, nursing services, or both.
  • Short-term nursing homes. Some assisted living homes, memory care facilities, and nursing homes accept people needing care for short stays while caregivers are away.

You aren’t alone

If you’re like many caregivers, you have a hard time asking for help. Unfortunately, this attitude can lead to feeling isolated, frustrated, and even depressed. Rather than struggling on your own, take advantage of local resources for caregivers. To get started, contact your local Area Agency on Aging (AAA) to learn about services in your community. You can find your local AAA online or in the government section of your telephone directory.

This is why we formed the Alzheimer’s Research Association: so you would not feel alone, so you would have a place to turn to when you need help the most.

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