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Alzheimer's Caregivers: Sandwiched Between Parenting Your Kids and Your Parents

Caring for kids and a loved one with Alzheimer’s, too? Here’s how to make it easier -- for everyone.

Alzheimer’s Caregiving: Taking Care of Yourself

If you’re taking care of children and someone with Alzheimer’s disease, you need to take care of yourself too. You’ve probably heard that before. In fact, you’ve probably heard that a hundred times before.

And your natural reaction might be something like: “I have to take care of my mother, work a full-time job, and raise two kids who have school and dance lessons and soccer practice. I don’t have a spare minute in the day to take care of myself.”

But this isn’t fuzzy, touchy-feely advice. It’s a stark fact. If you want to keep taking care of your family and your loved one, you need to keep it together. To keep it together, you need to give yourself breaks. Here are some things to keep in mind.

  • Caregiving has a toll on your health. Caregivers have a higher risk of depression, anxiety, other illnesses, and early death. But according to surveys, caregivers routinely underestimate the effect it has on their health. Look at it this way: being a caregiver is a risk factor for health problems, the equivalent of taking up a risky habit or job, like smoking or lion taming. You need to work extra hard to stay healthy, mentally and physically.
  • Consider the consequences to your family. If you push yourself too hard, and get pneumonia or become seriously depressed, what would happen? If things seem bad now, just imagine how bad they’d be if you were out of commission in the hospital. Who could take care of your family then?
  • Think of the benefits. Getting other people to help out doesn’t only help you. “If the person with Alzheimer’s is going to the day center, or spending time with someone else, it gives them a chance to engage with other people,” says Kallmyer. “That’s really important.”

So what are some ways of coping with stress when you’re an Alzheimer’s caregiver?

  • Stay fit. It’s not easy when you’re stressed, but try to eat with moderation. Activity is key for physical and mental health. If you have the time, take a hike or a yoga class. If you can’t, just squeeze in 20 minute walks or an at-home exercise program.
  • Get away. Spontaneous get-togethers with friends are great, but they may be hard to pull off. So, plan. Get someone to watch the kids and your loved one while you go out for lunch, a shopping trip, or a night at the movies.
  • Create a sanctuary. Eakin suggests that you set aside a room in your house -- or some part of a room -- as a place to get away from the demands of your life for a few minutes every day.
  • Get emotional support. On top of your caregiving chores, you may also feel terrible grief as you watch a loved one slip away from you. Don’t ignore those feelings. Talk to family and friends. Call a hotline or schedule an appointment with a therapist. Look into local support groups for caregivers.

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