While caregiving can be a wonderful and positive experience for both you and your loved one, it can also be extremely stressful, both physically and psychologically. If you don’t find a balance between caring for your loved one and taking care of your own emotional and physical health, you may be at risk of developing what’s known as caregiver stress, which often leads to caregiver burnout. This is especially true when looking after a loved one with dementia, as it is frequently a 24/7 job.
What causes caregiver stress and caregiver burnout? According to Alz.org., there are ten signs to watch for:
Denial about the disease and its effect on the person who has been diagnosed
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.
Social withdrawal from friends and activities that used to make you feel good
Anxiety about the future and facing another day
Depression that breaks your spirit and affects your ability to cope
Exhaustion that makes it nearly impossible to complete necessary daily tasks
Sleeplessness caused by a never-ending list of concerns
Irritability that leads to moodiness and negative responses and actions
Lack of concentration that makes it difficult to perform familiar tasks
Health problems that begin to take a mental and physical toll
Know that all of these thoughts and feelings are all normal and the good news is that there are things you can do to help you cope so you don’t end up suffering from caregiver burnout, which will not only interfere with your ability to care for your loved one, but will put your own health at risk and perhaps even lead to chronic depression. So what can you do?
Talk about your feelings with someone you trust; vent to a friend, co-worker or neighbor. You can also seek professional help from a therapist, social worker or clergyman. Finding a support group is another great option, as you will find yourself surrounded by others who are experiencing the same things and this can be especially comforting. Remember, you are really not alone.
Take the time to care for yourself. Exercise, eat right and get enough sleep. We all know that when we are stressed the last thing we want to do is exercise. But the fact is that when we do exercise it boosts our energy, reduces our stress levels and releases endorphins that will enhance our mood. Eat fruits, vegetables, and lean protein and give up foods such as sugar and caffeine. The right foods will nourish your body and fuel you with long-lasting energy, but sugar and carbs are smart to stay clear of as they might give you a quick surge but you will quickly crash. Lastly, don’t give up your much needed sleep; most people need 8 hours. When you don’t get enough sleep you are very likely to become moody, frustrated and lose your ability to handle everyday stressors.
Find ways to expand your coping tools. Try a new relaxation or meditation technique that can help you feel more in control. Experiment with deep breathing or yoga or join a new exercise or dance class. Many senior and community centers offer free and low cost classes in all types of dance and exercise disciplines and you’ll be surprised to discover that just a few minutes a day or one class a week can boost your every-day perspective.
Alzheimer’s New Jersey recommends that you educate yourself about the disease so you can be prepared for the unexpected and encourages you to seek out helpful resources in your community. Visit their website for vital information about the disease, ways to cope, a listing of caregiver support groups and more. Because Alzheimer’s and dementia are progressive diseases, it is also wise to stay a few steps ahead so you can prepare yourself for issues and behaviors that may present themselves in your caregiving future.
Most importantly, take time for you! For most of us, this may be the hardest thing of all, but it can be life changing. Ask for help from a family member or friend or take advantage of adult care programs that will provide you with much-needed time for yourself. Arrange for your child, sibling or friend to spend time with your loved one so that they can see what’s going on firsthand. They might be able to provide you with additional insights as a result. As caregivers we often take the whole world on our shoulders and don’t ask for help, but as Helpguide.org reminds us, we should not be afraid to say ‘yes’ when someone offers. Let people feel good about supporting you. Make a list of small tasks that others can easily do for you, such as picking up groceries or driving your loved one to an appointment. Find a trusted adult day program where your loved one can interact with peers and programs in a safe and nurturing environment. It will add valuable interest to their life, and at the same time, give you the time you need to connect with friends, take a class, run errands or even take a nap! These things are essential for remaining a healthy and refreshed caregiver.
The bottom line is obvious: if you don’t take care of yourself, you will not be able to take care of anyone else. Remember what the airlines always say, put the oxygen mask on yourself before putting it on your loved one. And give yourself permission to do something you enjoy every day. It will make a world of difference and hopefully save you from caregiver burnout!
The Senior Center at the Kaplen JCC on the Palisades is one place you can turn to help you on this difficult journey. We’re here to help! Our social adult day program meets six days a week in a warm community environment where participants can make friends and enjoy a socially engaging life, while you get the respite, support and guidance you need as well. Door to door transportation in handicapped accessible vans is provided to many area towns. Program includes full breakfast and hot kosher lunch, as well as a diverse calendar of activities. For more information or to arrange a visit, contact Judi Nahary at 201-408-1450 | firstname.lastname@example.org or Marlene Ceragno, at 201-569-7900, ext. 439 | email@example.com.
Written by Marlene Ceragno, certified gerontologist and dementia care practitioner and the senior program and caregiver services coordinator at the Kaplen JCC on the Palisades.