As any experienced caregiver can tell you, taking care of a love one with Alzheimer’s disease or other form of dementia can be extremely difficult. And because it is a progressive disorder, the challenges will only grow over time.
Your loved one will require increasing amounts of care and you will have to provide increasing amounts of time and support. For many at-home caregivers today, the growing demands on their time, attention and energy can result in increased levels of stress that can be very unhealthy and potentially dangerous.
Avoiding the “Second Victim” Syndrome
Amanda King, Executive Director at Clarity Pointe Jacksonville, the beautiful new Memory Care Assisted Living community in Jacksonville, FL, says, “Today, caregiver stress is a major concern in our society. In addition to their daily caregiving duties, many caregivers are also attempting to juggle the demands of family, home, career and personal time.
“Oftentimes, this balancing act can only be sustained for a limited period of time. At some point, something has to go. And all too often, it is something that holds importance for the caregiver.
“In fact, experts in the field of memory care have referred to caregivers as the ‘second patient’ or the ‘second victim’ of Alzheimer’s. Being an at-home caregiver has been proven to take a significant toll on caregivers in terms of their physical, mental and emotional well-being. Studies show that family caregivers are significantly more likely to report their health is in poor condition than non-caregivers.
“This underscores the great importance of self-care for caregivers and taking positive steps to manage their stress and overall health.”
The Warning Signs of Caregiver Stress
According to the Mayo Clinic, you may be so focused on your loved one that you don't realize that your own health and well-being are suffering. Therefore, it is very important to monitor yourself for a variety of factors that can spell trouble for your own well-being. These include:
- Feeling overwhelmed or constantly worried
- Feeling tired most of the time
- Sleeping too much or too little
- Gaining or losing a lot of weight
- Becoming easily irritated or angry
- Losing interest in activities you used to enjoy
- Feeling sad
- Having frequent headaches, bodily pain or other physical problems
- Abusing alcohol or drugs, including prescription medications
Adds King, “You should never feel guilty about being concerned with your own health. Your well-being is essential in order to fulfill your role as an effective caregiver. Stress, when experienced over an extended period of time, can lead to caregiver burnout, which can result in depression, sleeplessness, hypertension and serious illnesses such as diabetes and heart disease.
Thus, ‘Taking care of number one’ isn’t just important, it’s an imperative. Your life is every bit as important as your loved one’s.”
You can also use the Alzheimer’s Association’s online Caregiver Stress Check. If you have any of these symptoms, you should contact your doctor immediately.
Fortunately, there several helpful tips from expert sources that you can use to manage your stress and make your life more manageable.
Coping Tips That Can Reduce Your Stress and Improve Your Well-Being
Both the Alzheimer’s Association and the Mayo Clinic offer advice on how you can cope with the stresses of caregiving while improving the quality of care for your loved one. For example:
- Get help – No one can do it all alone! Trying to do everything by yourself will leave you exhausted and at risk of burnout. Seek the support of family and friends as well as suggestions from other caregivers going through similar experiences.
People often want to help, but don’t quite know how. Therefore, always be very specific in telling others exactly what they can do to help (e.g. “Please take mom for her flu shot next Tuesday”). The Alzheimer's Association 24/7 Helpline (800.272.3900), online message boards and local support groups offer good sources of comfort and reassurance.
- Know what resources are available –Adult day programs, in-home assistance, visiting nurses and meal delivery are just some of the services that can help you manage daily tasks. Use the Alzheimer’s Association’s online Community Resource Finder or contact your local Alzheimer's Association chapter for assistance in finding Alzheimer's care resources in your community. The Alzheimer’s Navigator is a free online tool that helps evaluate your needs, identifies action steps and connects you with local programs and services.
- Practice relaxation techniques –There are several simple relaxation techniques that can help relieve your stress. Try more than one to find which works best for you. These techniques include:
- Visualization – mentally picturing a place or situation that is peaceful and calm
- Meditation – which can be as simple as dedicating 15 minutes a day to letting go of all stressful thoughts
- Breathing exercises – slowing your breathing and focusing on taking deep breaths
- Progressive muscle relaxation – tightening and then relaxing each muscle group, starting at one end of your body and working your way to the other end
- Get moving –Physical activity, in any form, can help reduce stress and improve your overall well-being. Even ten minutes of exercise a day can help. Take a walk and/or do an activity you love, such as gardening or dancing.
- Schedule time for yourself –As a caregiver, it's hard to find time for yourself, but staying connected to friends, family and activities that you love is important for your well-being. Yoga, exercise, music, gardening and outings with friends can take the edge off of stress. Even if it's only for 30 minutes a week, carve out a pocket of time just for you.
- Become an educated caregiver –As the disease progresses, new caregiving skills may be necessary. The Alzheimer's Association offers programs to help you better understand and cope with the behaviors and personality changes that typically accompany Alzheimer's.
- See your doctor and set personal health goals –Get recommended immunizations and screenings. Make sure to tell your doctor that you're a caregiver. Don't hesitate to mention any concerns or symptoms you have.
Says King, “Keep in mind that you have a life, too. And staying healthy yourself is the most important thing you can do for your loved one. Be mindful of the symptoms of caregiver stress and see your doctor if you are experiencing warning signs.
“Also, take full advantage of the recommended coping techniques by the experts. Assistance is available in many forms, including from the compassionate team at Clarity Pointe Jacksonville.
Supporting At-Home Caregivers with Programs, Information and Support
In addition to providing exceptional care, our beautiful new Memory Care community offers many educational and support programs to assist families in coping with their caregiving responsibilities, while continuing to have meaningful interactions and relationships with their loved ones.
Clarity Pointe Jacksonville schedules free monthly programs and events for caregivers and families that provide you with useful information, guidance and support. We invite you to check our monthly events calendar regularly and read our frequent articles and tips on important memory care topics. We’re always here to help!
Clarity Pointe … Our Difference is Clear
Clarity Pointe’s Specialized Memory Care “Living” Neighborhoods are truly changing lives for those with Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias – and for those who love them. At Clarity Pointe, our mission is to ensure our residents lead connected and rewarding lives.
Unlike other providers that offer a secure memory care wing in a skilled nursing or assisted living center, Clarity Pointe Jacksonville offers three freestanding, purpose-built Memory Care communities that are solely and entirely dedicated to Memory Care Assisted Living. Our communities blend luxurious surroundings with specialized care that is individualized to each resident and delivered by a compassionate, expert team of professionals.
We stay current on the latest trends and advancements in Alzheimer’s care and implement them into our residents’ care plans. Always moving forward, we combine the latest in evidence-based programming with luxurious, residential living and compassionate respectful care.
For each of our residents, we offer a life that is engaging, fulfilling, inspiring and meaningful.