Taking care of a loved one who has Alzheimer's disease or another dementia can be a difficult, stressful, and tiring job. It affects the caregiver's health and ability to rest and can be a source of stress and conflict for the entire household.
The demands of caring for a person who has dementia may cut off caregivers from friends, leisure activities, and other responsibilities. For a caregiver who has health problems, the physical and emotional strain of caregiving can make those problems worse. Fatigue, depression, and sleep problems commonly develop, and caregivers often carry an added emotional burden of feeling worried, guilty, and angry about taking care of the person.
If you are a caregiver, you can benefit by learning as much as you can and taking care of yourself. Learn all you can about the type of dementia your loved one has and what the future may bring.
Organizations such as the Alzheimer's Association and the Family Caregiver Alliance can provide educational materials as well as information on support groups and services.
Taking care of yourself when you're a caregiver
Taking care of yourself is your most important step as a caregiver. Caregiving can be stressful, even in the best of situations. Here are some important things you need to find time to do—just for yourself.
- Take a class on caregiving.
You will meet other caregivers and learn new ways to deal with challenging situations. To find classes in your area, contact the Family Caregiver Alliance (www.caregiver.org).
- Get some exercise.
You may feel better and sleep better if you exercise. Experts say to aim for at least 2½ hours of moderate activity a week.footnote 1
- Eat healthy meals and snacks.
When you are busy giving care, it may seem easier to eat fast food than to prepare healthy meals. But healthy meals are easy to prepare, and healthy eating will give you more energy to carry you through each day.
- Get enough sleep.
If you aren't getting enough sleep at night, take a nap during the day. Plan to get at least one full night's rest each week.
- Make time for an activity you enjoy.
For example, make time to read, listen to music, paint, do crafts, or play an instrument—even if you can only do it for a few minutes a day. If you like to go to church activities or take classes, ask a friend or family member to stay with your loved one for an hour or two once or twice a week so you can do those things.
- Get regular medical checkups.
This includes dental checkups. Even if you have always been healthy, you need to stay healthy. Know about the signs of depression, and watch for them not only in the person you are caring for but also in yourself. If you have feelings of lingering sadness or hopelessness, talk with your doctor.
- Get the support you need.
Helping a loved one with health problems can be emotionally difficult. If you are having trouble coping with your feelings, seek advice and counseling from family members, trained mental health professionals, or spiritual advisors.