Being a caregiver to someone with dementia or Alzheimer’s can be extremely rewarding. It can also be incredibly stressful. But many caregivers hesitate to admit they need help. Often, caregivers of an elderly parent or spouse hide their depression, frustration, and feelings of being overwhelmed. It doesn’t have to be this way.
It is normal to both want to take care of a loved one, yet still face exhaustion and the need to take a break. This does not indicate failure or lack of commitment. It simply means the caregiver is human. No one is inexhaustible. If caregivers don’t take time for their own self-care, they will deplete whatever energy, positive attitude, or mental and physical strength they need to continue taking care of their parent or spouse suffering from Alzheimer’s or dementia.
Caregivers must acknowledge the stresses they are experiencing. Witnessing the decline of a loved one is heartbreaking and can stir up a wide range of emotions: denial, helplessness, anger, grief. Meanwhile, caregivers must also contend with other personal, career and financial responsibilities that come with everyday life. All this pressure can add up to a potentially unhealthy situation.
It is important to recognize the signs that a caregiver is overwhelmed:
- Constantly feeling tired
- Prolonged feelings of sadness
- Loss of desire to do once enjoyable things such as hobbies or socializing
- Difficulty controlling emotions
- Sleep pattern disruptions: not enough or too much
- Change in eating habits leading to weight loss or gain
- Physical ailments such as stomachaches, headaches, muscle pain, fatigue, colds
- Feelings of guilt and helplessness
If a caregiver experiences any of these issues consistently or for an extended period, they should consult their doctor. It is not uncommon for depression and anxiety to afflict caregivers, taking a serious toll on emotional and physical health.
One of the most important things an Alzheimer’s or dementia caregiver can do is ask for respite help. Friends and family can be excellent sources of support. But those with no experience caring for someone with Alzheimer’s or dementia often don’t realize how challenging it can be. Caregivers should specify the type of help they need. It may be doing the grocery shopping or providing an afternoon “off” to go to a movie and clear their head. Sometimes, just a cup of coffee and a chat is what is needed. Whatever the “ask” may be, most people will help.
As the dementia or Alzheimer’s progresses, and things get more difficult, the periods a loved one needs to be watched can stretch beyond just an afternoon and medical supervision may even be required. Then it may well be time to consider professional respite care. Some care facilities will accept an Alzheimer’s or dementia patient for the afternoon, weekend, or even longer. This option can offer peace-of-mind to caregivers who must travel for work, have an emergency with other family members, or need a well-deserved, guilt-free vacation.
Admitting an elderly parent or spouse on a short-term basis also is a good introduction leading up to a long-term stay that may be inevitable. Becoming familiar with new surroundings and people, on an incremental basis, can help a loved one’s transition into a long-term stay.
Another option is professional in-home respite care. In this scenario, a trained professional will come to the Alzheimer’s or dementia patient’s home and provide medical care and supervision. Their stay can vary based on the needs of the caregiver and the patient. This option is good for individuals who would not do well in a group setting.
Respite care, whether from family and friends or professionals, is an essential component of caregiving. Caregivers need to understand the need for self-care and not be afraid to ask for help. It will keep them healthier emotionally and physically and better able to take care of their loved one suffering from Alzheimer’s or dementia.