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Alzheimer's Disease Health Center

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Caregiver Grief Triggers Mixed Emotions

From the initial diagnosis to a loved one's death and beyond, caregivers are faced with a barrage of conflicting feelings. Here's how to cope with them.

How to Cope

So how can caregivers better work through the barrage of emotions that occur during an after a loved one's illness?

 

  • Be more than a caregiver. "For many people, the role of caregiver is all-consuming," says Doka. "So when it ends, life can feel as though it's lost its meaning and purpose."

 

That's why it's important for caregivers to set up regular "me" time, says Prigerson. "You need to make sure you're not socially isolated, and your days prior to the death consist of just more than just caregiving. We found that one of the great aspects of caregiving burden that leads to depression isn't from the hours spent giving care, but that the caregiver feels deprived of their own time. You really need to take time for yourself, whether it's going for walk or enjoying a nice dinner out sometime."

 

  • Nurture a network ... Many caregivers feel it's their responsibility to offer care and hesitate to seek help elsewhere. Bad move. "What I do on a clinical basis is have caregivers write down the names of all the people that could be in their network," says Doka. "Not just family members, but also friends, neighbors, or if they're involved in a faith community, consider members of their church, who can be a strong part of your network."

 

  • ... And assign tasks. Understand that different people can perform different roles, he adds. "Some people are more prone to be good listeners, others are doers, while others are good for helping you with rest and relaxation. Even when caregivers have a big network of support, a common problem is that they don't use it well. I suggest on your list you assign tasks to different people: Some are Ls (listeners), Ds (doers) or Rs (relaxers)."

 

  • Get help with housework. "You would think that emotional dependency is the biggest predictor of a caregiver's complicated grief," says Prigerson, "but studies indicate that when a caregiver has been dependent on their ailing spouse for household chores, that can have an even bigger impact." In other words, try to get help with routine chores such as laundry, cleaning, and shopping.

 

  • Mind your own health. Since they are preoccupied with a loved one's illness, caregivers often turn a blind eye to their own health. "The risk of hospitalization of a caregiver is greatest in the months following the death," she says. So when the patient is falling, and especially afterward, be especially mindful of your eating, sleeping, and exercise habits. "This is where 'me' time becomes especially important."

 

  • Consider respite care. The Alzheimer's Association and similar advocacy groups often offer respite care -- in essence, adult day care for afflicted patients that allow caregivers time for themselves. "One of the best things you can do is contact your local chapter or a VA hospital to see what's available in your area," says Mintz. "There is help out there."

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Reviewed on June 08, 2004

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