As much as you love the person in your life who has Alzheimer's disease, taking care of them can be stressful.
People with the condition often need help for decades rather than a few months or years, says Mary G. Austrom, PhD, an expert on caregivers and Alzheimer's disease at the Indiana University School of Medicine. They also need more and more help with basic needs over time.
There are about 10 million people in the U.S. -- mostly women – who have chosen to take care of a loved one with Alzheimer’s disease. It’s a grueling job in itself, but many aren’t only caregiving. They’re also raising kids of their own -- and maybe working – at the same time.
“You’re already a parent to your children, and then suddenly you have to become a caregiver to your parent,” says Donna Schempp, LCSW, program director at the Family Caregiver Alliance in San Francisco. “It’s very hard to...
For caregivers, that stress can build into burnout. It can also make you more likely to get depressed. It helps a lot if you can notice when you start to feel overwhelmed, and then take steps to get back on track. If you do that for yourself, you’ll be better prepared to take care of your loved one.
How to Spot Burnout
When your responsibilities start to overwhelm you, you may feel:
More frustrated and impatient
Less hungry or more hungry
Less pleasure in things you used to enjoy
You may also notice that you sleep more (or less) than usual, or that you are tempted to use alcohol or other drugs to take the edge off.
If any of these things happen, tell your doctor or the one who is treating the person you’re caring for. They may be able to help, Austrom says.
Go Easy on Your Loved One and Yourself
When your loved one seems to be living in the past or wants to argue with you, or says or does things over and over, remember that that’s the disease talking.
Try not to argue with her, even when you know she’s not right. Also, resist the urge to correct your loved one's behaviors or word choices, says Marsha Lewis, PhD, dean of the School of Nursing at the University at Buffalo. It’s going to take too much time and energy, and you won’t persuade them. It just add stress to your life.
Give yourself a break. Focus on doing what you can for your loved one. Chances are, you don’t have special training in caregiving, and you probably have lots of other responsibilities, such as your own family and a job.
"Most healthy older adults, when asked about their preferences for care if they can no longer care for themselves, say, 'I wouldn't want to be a burden on my children,'" Austrom says. Your parent, partner, or other loved one with the disease wouldn't want you to wear yourself out. So know your limits and try not to push too far past them, too often.