Advice for Alzheimer’s caregivers who are running on empty

Those who care for people with Alzheimer’s Disease are under a tremendous burden.  Providing care for anyone, particularly someone with dementia or Alzheimer’s, can be difficult physically and emotionally. If you suffer from exhaustion or feel discouraged, you need to take back your health.  Here are some ways to evaluate how you are feeling and improve your well-being.


November is National Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness Month and National Family Caregivers Month.  If you are a caregiver, you are already familiar with the disease, but you may not recognize how it is impacting your own mental and physical health.  It’s vital to maintain self-care or you risk a potential break down.  The stress levels endured while caring for Alzheimer’s patients is tremendous.  According to experts cited by the New York Times, “The strain of the task has been shown in many studies to increase the risk of a variety of illnesses, and even death.”

Are you reaching the breaking point?  There are several terms applied to what happens when you go too long without tending to your own needs as a caregiver, and the words tell the story: caregiver stress, compassion fatigue, caregiver burnout.  Some experts say you should watch for these indicators that you may be pushing yourself too far:

  • Anxiety, depression, irritability
  • Feeling discouraged, helpless or hopeless
  • Exhaustion
  • Trouble sleeping
  • New health concerns, getting sick frequently or ongoing illnesses
  • Difficulty focusing
  • Drinking, smoking or eating more
  • Feeling overly emotional
  • Decreasing interest in hobbies or other normal activities
  • Neglecting obligations
  • Isolation; not spending time with friends

Improve your self-care.  It’s vital to make tending your own needs your top priority.  Without properly nurturing your own mind and body, you risk becoming overly stressed.  Here are some suggestions for improving your well-being:

  • Journaling.  Write in a journal what you are feeling.  Putting your emotions into words can help.
  • Connect.  Talk to a friend who knows you and cares about you.  Friends can often help us process our feelings.
  • Take care of your body.  Some experts recommend tending to your body by eating right, getting enough sleep and exercising to help heal from ongoing stress.
  • Reach out.  Engage with a local support group.  Check in with your faith organization or inquire with an Alzheimer’s-specific support group in your area.  You also could engage with Alzheimer’s-oriented Facebook pages such as “Alzheimers and Dementia Caregivers Support” or “Memory People.™”
  • Accept help.  Accept offers for supper out or carpooling to an appointment.  Don’t hesitate to ask family members and friends to pitch in to help you with smaller tasks.

Make modifications.  One way to relieve stress is to make your loved one’s home safer.  Part of Alzheimer’s involves the decline of several abilities such as judgment, balance, depth perception and hearing.  Because of these issues, there is a reason to be concerned about safety within the home.  Some basic modifications can help put your mind at ease.  Here are some suggestions from the professionals at Social Work Today:

  • Evaluate the home.  Identify possible danger zones in the home, such as opportunities to wander out a door, slippery surfaces, stairwells, or objects that might cause injury.
  • Adapt.  Altering the home is a more practical solution than trying to modify the behavior of your loved one.  Take preventative measures instead of trying to teach.
  • Simplify.  Accidents commonly occur when seniors are rushing.  Instead of trying to do too much at once, break activities into small tasks that are easy to focus on and complete.  Give plenty of time for each step.  
  • Encourage independence.  Creating an environment that is restrictive will hinder you both.  Instead, make the environment open to social interaction and meaningful pursuits.
  • Be realistic.  You can’t prevent every problem, but by paying attention to riskier activities you can avoid danger.

Time to refill.  If you’re a caregiver who is running on empty, it’s time for a refill.  Allowing yourself to reach the breaking point is bad for you mentally and physically, and leaves you with little to offer your loved one.  Improve your self-care to feel better.  Reduce risks in the home for peace of mind, and make taking care of yourself your top priority. You’ll be healthier and steadier and you’ll be able to provide the quality care your loved one deserves.

Written by Lydia Chan

Photo by kenteegardin


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