Alzheimer’s Caregivers Are Stressed!

Offering support in later life

If you are providing care for a loved one who has Alzheimer’s disease or a related condition, the title of this article will not surprise you. But many people are unaware of the challenges faced by families when a loved one develops memory loss. They should become aware, say experts, who point out that our aging population means more families will someday be caring for a loved one with dementia.

In late 2017, researchers from the University of Michigan partnered with the AARP to take a look at the lives of today’s dementia caregivers. The report, titled “Dementia Caregivers—Juggling, Delaying and Looking Forward,” found that while 85 percent of the caregivers studied said it’s rewarding to provide care for their loved one, over half reported that their caregiving duties interfered with taking care of their own physical and financial health. And a full 78 percent said that caring for their loved one was stressful.

We know that stress is associated with poor health, affecting almost every body system, including our heart, lungs and brain. And it is a sad irony that caring for a person with Alzheimer’s can be so stressful that it raises the caregiver’s risk of developing dementia, in turn.

How can Alzheimer’s caregivers reduce their stress level and its negative effects? A study published by the American Psychosomatic Society looked at the effect of caregiver stress on blood pressure. The researchers, who were from the University of California, San Diego, found that caregivers who made time for exercise had lower blood pressure. So did caregivers who made time for hobbies and interests they enjoyed, such as spending time outdoors, watching TV, listening to music and reading. 

It’s also important to eat a healthy diet, have regular healthcare appointments, and spend time with friends and family other than your loved one. Meditation, yoga and other relaxation techniques can help you clear your mind and release tension. If you are feeling depressed or anxious, seek help from a counselor who is familiar with caregiver challenges. Dementia care can dredge up “old issues” in your relationship with the person you’re caring for, and some of the behavior changes associated with the disease, such as aggression and paranoia, can be emotionally painful, so to keep things in perspective, and learn all you can about how the disease affects your loved one.

“Sounds great,” caregivers might say. “But where would I find the time to do all those things that relax me, when the time crunch is what’s stressing me out?”

It can be a cycle. A caregiver can find their duties gradually increasing until they’re swamped—and now they have no time to research support services that could help. Experts confirm that navigating these resources can be a big stress factor in itself! But for the sake of both the caregiver and their loved one, it’s important to get help. If you’re a caregiver, talk to family and friends about helping out. Contact your local Area Agency on Aging to find out what services are available for people with dementia and their caregivers. Ask about respite care available through adult day centers and senior living communities. Learn all you can about your loved one’s condition by taking a caregiver class and joining a support group where you can get tips from those in the know. An aging life care professional (geriatric care manager) can also help.

If your loved one is still living at home—and most people with memory loss prefer to do so as long as possible—check into home care services to support your loved one’s well-being and your own health. Not every caregiver will understand the special needs of your loved one, so it’s important to hire from an agency that provides special training in caring for clients with dementia. A trained caregiver can provide:

  • Supervision and an extra measure of safety
  • Companionship to prevent your loved one from feeling isolated and lonely
  • An appropriate program of activities
  • Meal preparation when it’s no longer safe for your loved one to cook
  • Assistance with bathing, dressing, grooming and using the toilet
  • Transportation to healthcare appointments
  • Assistance with medication management

If you’re not sure home care is financially feasible, look into public benefits programs. If your loved one has long-term care insurance, it may cover home care. And it may be time for a family meeting. If you are the primary caregiver, other family members may not realize all you do, what caregiving is costing you, and how it affects your health and career. Chipping in to hire home care may be a great way they can do their part, as well.

Need more inspiration to take care of yourself? Take a coffee break and try your hand at the “Reducing Caregiver Stress” puzzle in this issue of the Assisting Hands “Hand in Hand” eNewsletter.

Source: Assisting Hands Home Care in association with IlluminAge. Copyright © IlluminAge, 2018.