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.
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.
You're less likely to burn out if you share caregiving tasks with other people, Austrom says. Check with your insurance company to see what services they may cover.
Ask friends and family to help. Some caregivers use online calendars so the people in their lives can easily sign up to handle tasks. The Alzheimer's Association offers a "care team calendar" on its web site. You can also use Facebook or other social media to organize your circle of family and friends.
Enroll your loved one in an adult day care program for people with Alzheimer's. He can visit with others while you take a few hours to run errands or relax.
Find other care for a few weeks. Your loved one may be able to stay for a week or two at a long-term care facility. That will give you a break. Austrom says she’s heard caregivers say these breaks helped them relax and feel more able to handle their loved ones’ needs.
Share some tasks with a home health aide. If you hire someone part time, she can drop in and help with some of the caregiving tasks.
Contact your local Agency on Aging. The agency can point you toward resources such as adult day care programs and home health services. You can find your agency's contact number through the web sites of the National Association of Area Agencies on Aging or the U.S. Administration on Aging.
Connect With People Who Get It
Find a support group for caregivers in your area. When you go, you can talk to people who know what you’re going through because they’ve been there, too. From them, you may learn new ways to manage your stress and see how they handle their challenges, Austrom says.
You can also try an online support group. The Alzheimer's Association, for example, has one.
Protect Your Own Health
"Sometimes caregivers, in their zeal to care for their loved ones, will stop taking care of themselves," Austrom says.
But your loved one is counting on you -- and you count, too. Make a point to:
- Keep up with your own medical care.
- Exercise daily, even if it's just a 20-minute walk.
- Get enough sleep.
- Spend time with people you like.
- Consider talking with a counselor about what’s going on and how you’re doing.
Appreciate the Moment
Caregiving can be intense. You’re bound to be busy. Still, look for chances to do things that you enjoy. These may be moments, rather than tons of time. Even so, they can help restore and renew you.
"Taking time for pleasant events is important,” Austrom says. Make time at least once a week to do something fun with your family or friends, head outdoors, or spend time on a hobby that you love. You’ll come back more ready to step back into your caregiver role.