If you or someone you love has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or dementia, chances are you have a lot of questions. Get answers at REAL Services and Alzheimer’s and Dementia Services of Northern Indiana. Call 574-233-8205 or 800-552-2916 to get help today.
Taking care of a loved one with Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia is a very loving thing to do — but it can also be very draining.
In fact, being a caregiver can cause so much chronic stress that caregivers may find their own health is impacted. In some cases, being a caregiver can shorten a person’s life by 4 to 8 years, according to Kristina Fuller, program specialist at Alzheimer’s and Dementia Services of Northern Indiana, a division of REAL Services.
That doesn’t mean that being a caregiver is a bad thing. It simply means that caregivers should remember to take care of themselves too — so they can be healthy and happy for themselves and for the loved one they are taking care of.
Here are 5 ways caregivers can take care of themselves.
1. Get educated on the form of dementia a loved one has
One of the biggest struggles caregivers face is not knowing what to expect with the disease and not knowing how to handle tough situations, like when their loved one forgets their name or says something that doesn’t make any sense.
Learning as much as possible about the form of dementia a loved one has and the various things that will happen over the 8 to 10 years it could last can be very helpful.
“Families all say that getting the education has been the best tool and the life saver,” Fuller said. “When you can separate the person from the disease — ‘this not Mom, this is the disease’ — and when you can conceptualize what’s going on in the brain and see how it’s coming out, it’s easier to know how to respond.”
It also helps the caregiver know what to expect as the disease progresses and be able to plan ahead for major changes, such as transitioning to a memory care facility.
2. Build a support network
Part of taking care of yourself as a caregiver means knowing where to go for help. Talk to friends, family members, neighbors and other people you trust. They can provide emotional support as well as point out various local resources they might be familiar with.
Look for a support groups for Alzheimer’s and dementia caregivers and local organizations that specifically focus on Alzheimer’s and dementia care.
Find an elder law attorney who can help navigate Medicare and Medicaid laws, as well as power of attorney issues and other end-of-life decisions.
The goal is to have a network of people that can answer or help find answers to virtually any question or issue a caregiver might face, so that the caregiver never has to feel alone or helpless.
3. Ask for help… and accept it when it’s offered
“Even when people do have support, they don’t like to ask for help,” Fuller said. But asking for help isn’t just OK — it’s necessary. “It’s really important to communicate with other people what you need and what your concerns are. People want to help when you’re open about what you need.”
Fuller said that many caregivers say they don’t want to be a burden on other people, but if they don’t get the help they need, their own health and well-being will suffer. That will become a larger burden in the long run.
“And if someone offers to help, say yes and have a specific task in mind for them,” Fuller said. It can be something as simple as helping out around the house with basic chores like laundry or grocery shopping. It could even be giving the caregiver a break to spend time doing something relaxing or fun.
“It takes a lot to get to that point where you are comfortable asking for help, but it’s going to make life so much easier,” Fuller said.
4. Go to the doctor
Being a caregiver can be emotionally and physically draining, which can cause health issues for the caregiver. Caregivers should pay attention to their emotional and physical symptoms and make sure they are under a doctor’s care should anything come up.
The stress of being a caregiver can cause sleeplessness, headaches, backaches and feelings of being overwhelmed or isolated. It can also make a person more susceptible to catching colds or coming down with the flu during flu season.
Eventually, if a caregiver ignores their own health, problems could pile up and they could end up passing away before their loved one, Fuller said.
Caregivers who prioritize their own health can make sure they are their best selves and fully able to take care of their loved one.
5. Get some “me” time
Caregivers don’t stop being people who need to unwind, relax and have fun just because they’re responsible for taking care of someone else. It’s important for a caregiver to schedule time in their days to do something for themselves.
It could be treating oneself to a cup of coffee at a favorite coffee shop. It could be gardening, going golfing, reading a book or spending time praying. Having lunch with a friend can be relaxing. Sitting alone at the park enjoying the sunshine and time alone can do wonders to help a caregiver relax.
Whatever helps is the right thing to do.
“What I hear a lot is that there is just not enough time in the day. You kind of have to schedule out that time and make sure you take it,” Fuller said. “If it’s five minutes, that’s a start. If you can do a half hour, that’s wonderful.”
That time focusing on “me time” helps a caregiver relax and recharge, which helps them take better care of their loved one and enjoy being a caregiver.