Let’s be honest…
If you are the primary caregiver of a loved one who is living with Alzheimer’s or some other form of Dementia, then I’m sure you don’t need someone to tell you how much effort goes into your day.
Caregiving for a loved one with dementia is perhaps one of the most challenging – and with the right support, rewarding – roles that a person can take on.
Since 2005, caregiver’s concerns have been the focus of more than 800 studies and surveys. Through these studies they found that caregivers of dementia family members reported feeling higher levels of stress, depression and anxiety symptoms. They also reported lower levels of feelings of well-being and personal productivity. In addition, they experience worse physical health outcomes. Health issues included higher levels of stress hormones, compromised immune response, lower antibodies, higher medication usage, and a greater decline in cognitive skills.
The Alzheimer’s Association reports that unpaid caregivers provide 21-60 hours of care per week. According to Alzheimer.net, “there are approximately 16 million unpaid caregivers caring for someone with dementia in the United States.”
This is why dementia caregivers need as much support and as many resources as they can get. Caring for a loved one should be enjoyed and celebrated. There are many rewards to being a caregiver: quality time spent together, an intimate knowledge and understanding of your loved one, inside jokes that only you share…
Let’s take a brief look at some of those survey and study results…
- Over 50% of the care provided for people with dementia is done so by friends and family members. Schulz & Martire
- 33% of caregivers struggle to maintain their own health, skipping personal doctor visits due to caregiving responsibilities. Associated Press and the NORC Center for Public Affairs Research
- 34% of dementia caregivers are 65 and over.
- 46% of family members giving care perform some sort of medical or nursing care on a regular basis. Most of them also reported that they had received very little training. Independent study
Caregiving can be hard work, and sometimes that can overshadow the joy you may otherwise experience from this role. Survey results overall show that dementia caregivers expressed feeling more burdened when the caregiving intensity was higher, and when they perceived fewer benefits or support.
The Truth: It can be overwhelming to take care of a loved one who suffers from Alzheimer’s or dementia, and too much stress can be harmful to you both. BUT YOU ARE NOT ALONE AND THERE IS HELP.
So what can you do about the added stress of your role?
Step 1: Recognize and acknowledge your own signs of stress and burnout. Don’t claim that you’re “just fine” if you’re not.
Step 2: Get the support that best fits your needs.
Identifying the Signs of Caregiver Stress and Burnout
“If the stress of caregiving is left unchecked, it can take a toll on your health, relationships, and state of mind—eventually leading to burnout: a state of emotional, mental, and physical exhaustion. Once you get to that point, both you and the person you’re caring for suffers.” ~helpingguide.org
That is why self-care isn’t a luxury, it’s a necessity. Cultivating your own emotional and physical well-being is just as important as making sure your family member gets to their doctor’s appointment or takes their medication on time.
Learning to recognize the signs of caregiver stress and burnout is important, so you can take immediate action to prevent things from becoming worse and start improving the situation for both you and the person you’re caring for.
Most Common Symptoms of Caregiver Stress
- Exhaustion that makes it nearly impossible to complete daily tasks.
- Anxiety about the future or facing another day.
- Denial about the disease and its effect on the person who has been diagnosed.
- Anger at the person with Alzheimer’s arising from the frustration that he or she can’t do the things they used to be able to do.
- Social withdrawal from friends and activities that you enjoyed and used to make you feel good.
- Depression that builds more frequently and affects your ability to cope.
- Irritability that triggers negative responses, actions or mood swings.
- Sleeplessness caused by concern over a never-ending list of “what if”.
- Feeling increasingly resentful of your loved one’s situation and the demands upon you as the caregiver.
- Increased drinking, smoking or eating as a “me time” or for self-comfort to combat the feelings of stress.
- Neglecting responsibilities purposefully, many times as a direct result of another symptom listed here.
- Lack of concentration that makes it difficult to perform even the most basic daily tasks.
- Health problems that begin to take a mental and physical toll, including heart disease.
- Dementia caregivers are more prone to develop Dementia themselves, yet are unlikely or unwilling to recognize it in themselves.
Do any of these sound familiar? If you experience any of these signs of stress on a regular basis, talk to your doctor or seek other supports. Ignoring these or other possible symptoms can exhaust your physical and mental health.
Most Common Signs of Caregiver Burnout
- Constantly feeling exhausted, regardless of how much sleep you manage to get.
- Your life revolves around your caregiving responsibilities, but you feel little satisfaction for your efforts.
- Often feeling helpless, hopeless and alone in your fight to maintain the level of care you feel is required or expected from you.
- You have noticeably less energy than you had before.
- It seems like you catch every cold or flu that goes around.
- You ignore your own needs and self-care, either because you don’t care anymore or you’re too busy .
- You have trouble relaxing, even when you do get a break.
- You’re increasingly irritable and impatient with people, most especially with the person you are caring for.
The demands of caregiving can be overwhelming. However there are steps you can take to not only reduce your stress, but also regain a sense of balance, joy, and hope in your role as a caregiver.
All information in this article and more can be found at the following resources: