Alzheimer’s disease changes lives. In addition to the more than five million Americans who suffer from it, the disease also changes the lives of the family members who care for them. The family caregiver experiences considerable burden, stress and disruption to her own life. She is at risk for emotional and physical health problems, with older adults in caregiver roles particularly vulnerable. (In New Jersey, my company offers multiple resources for family caregivers including video training free of charge.)
A caregiver for an Alzheimer’s patient must deal not only with a loved one’s memory loss, but also the disease’s other common symptoms: loss of judgment, orientation, ability to understand and communicate effectively and, frequently, changes in personality and behavior. It becomes an all-consuming job – often forcing caregivers to quit their jobs, give up personal time, and become socially isolated.
Additionally, there is exhaustion that comes from a lack of sleep and irritability. Many lose their focus or concentration and, often, because they stop taking care of their own health concerns, place themselves at risk of getting sick.
In working with patients to prevent caregiver burnout, the Alzheimer’s Association offers these recommendations:
- Find out what resources are available in the community. Adult day programs, in-home assistance, visiting nurses and meal delivery are just some of the services that can help the overwhelmed caregiver manage daily tasks.
- Get help. Seek the support of family, friends and caregivers going through similar experiences. Caregivers need to learn to delegate responsibilities to others.
- Use relaxation techniques to relieve stress. There are several simple relaxation techniques that can help relieve stress. This may include visualization, meditation, breathing exercises and muscle relaxation which can be done in the comfort of your home.
- Get moving. Physical activity can help reduce stress and improve overall well-being. Even 10 minutes of exercise a day can help and that can include taking a walk and going up and down the stairs.
- Make time for yourself. Experts recommend that caregivers carve out some time every week for themselves, where they can get away to spend time with a friend, shop, or take a class.
- Become educated. Alzheimer’s is a progressive illness and caregivers need to know what to expect at each stage and have a plan in place for coping with it. This involves researching the internet, getting involved with support groups and talking to specialists.
- Take care of yourself. Visit your doctor regularly. Watch your diet, exercise and get plenty of rest.