Taking care of yourself is one of the most important ways to be a healthy caregiver. Ask yourself ... are you so overwhelmed by taking care of your family member that you've neglected your own physical, mental and emotional well-being?
If you find yourself without the time to take care of your own needs, you may be putting yourself and your health at risk.
Do you visit your physician regularly? Be aware of what your body is telling you. Your exhaustion, stress, sleeplessness and changes in appetite or behavior should be taken seriously. Ignoring these symptoms can cause your physical and mental health to decline.
Do you accept assistance from others? You can't do everything. Attempting to handle it all yourself will only lead to burnout, depression and resentment toward the person in your care.
Do you talk to others about your feelings? You may think that no one understands what you are going through. Holding in your feelings, however, will only make you feel isolated and emotionally neglected.
10 symptoms of caregiver stress
Denial about the disease and its effect on the person who's been diagnosed
I know Mom is going to be better.
Anger at the person with Alzheimer's or others, anger that no cure exists and anger that people don't understand what's going on
If he asks me that question one more time, I'll scream!
Social withdrawal from friends and activities that once brought pleasure
I don't care about getting together with the neighbors anymore.
Anxiety about facing another day and what the future holds
What happens when he needs more care than I can provide?
Depression that begins to break your spirit and affects your ability to cope
I don't care anymore.
Exhaustion that makes it nearly impossible to complete necessary daily tasks
I'm too tired for this.
Sleeplessness caused by a never-ending list of concerns
What if she wanders out of the house or falls and hurts herself?
Irritability that leads to moodiness and triggers negative responses and reactions
Leave me alone!
Lack of concentration that makes it difficult to perform familiar tasks
I was so busy, I forgot we had an appointment.
Health problems that begin to take their toll, both mentally and physically
I can't remember the last time I felt good.
10 ways to be a healthy caregiver
Get a diagnosis as early as possible.
Symptoms of Alzheimer's may appear gradually. It can be easy to explain away unusual behavior when your family member seems physically healthy. Instead, consult a physician when you see signs of the disease.
Know what resources are available.
Get in touch with the Alzheimer's care resources in your community. Adult day care, in-home assistance, visiting nurses and Meals on Wheels are just some of the services that can help. Start with your local Alzheimer's Association chapter.
Become an educated caregiver.
As the disease progresses, new caregiving skills are necessary. The Alzheimer's Association can help you better understand and cope with the behaviors and personality changes that often accompany Alzheimer's.
Doing everything by yourself will leave you exhausted. Seek the support of family, friends and community resources. If you're afraid to ask for help, have someone advocate for you. Alzheimer's Association support group meetings, helplines and our online community are good sources of comfort and reassurance. If stress becomes overwhelming, seek professional help.
Take care of yourself.
Watch your diet, exercise and get plenty of rest. Make time for shopping, a movie or an uninterrupted visit with a friend by taking advantage of community services like adult day care or in-home services. To learn more about the respite care services in your area, contact your local Alzheimer's Association chapter.
Manage your level of stress.
Stress can cause physical problems (blurred vision, stomach irritation, high blood pressure) and changes in behavior (irritability, lack of concentration, loss of appetite). Note your symptoms. Use relaxation techniques that work for you, and consult a doctor.
Accept changes as they occur.
People with Alzheimer's change and so do their needs. They often require care beyond what you can provide on your own. A thorough investigation of care options should make transitions easier; so will the support and assistance of those around you.
Do legal and financial planning.
Plan ahead. Consult an attorney to discuss legal and financial issues, including durable power of attorney; living wills and trusts; future medical care; housing; and long-term care insurance. If possible and appropriate, involve the person with Alzheimer's and other family members.
Know that the care you provide does make a difference. Also know that, until a cure is found, the progression of Alzheimer's disease is inevitable. Many of the behaviors that occur are beyond your control and the control of the person with Alzheimer's. Give yourself permission to grieve your losses, but also focus on the positive moments as they arise and enjoy your good memories.
Give yourself credit, not guilt.
At times, you may lose patience and find yourself unable to provide all the care the way you'd like. Remember, you're doing the best you can. Don't feel guilty because you can't do more. Your elder needs you, and you are there – that should make you feel proud.