Older adults are living longer than ever before. But sadly, with increasing age comes an increased risk for Alzheimer’s disease. More than 1 in 9 adults aged 65+ has this disease, and more than a third of people aged 85 or above. Much of the caregiving falls to family members. But taking care of someone with Alzheimer’s isn’t easy. In honor of Alzheimer’s Awareness Month, here are some steps you can take to protect your own caregiver mental health.
Find Resources If They’re Available to You
Caring for someone with Alzheimer’s is a demanding job, especially as the disease progresses. No matter how strong you are, you can’t do it alone. Fortunately, there are quite a few resources in most communities. Options can include visiting nurses, adult daycare, and meal delivery services.
One of the most important things to find early is respite care. Respite service can be in-home or at an outside facility. Either way, it allows you to take some time for yourself, knowing that your loved one is well taken care of while you’re away. If you are concerned about costs, many care providers can connect you to community resources to help reduce the expense.
Be Willing to Ask for Help
Your family and friends undoubtedly want to help you, but they might not know what you need. Make a list of tasks such as preparing meals, cleaning the house, or sitting with your loved one for a few hours. Proactively reach out to those you trust and ask each to perform one of the needed tasks.
Prioritize Yourself to Properly Care for Others
Have you ever heard the old saying, “Put on your own oxygen mask first”? If an airplane runs into trouble and the oxygen masks drop down, you’re supposed to secure your mask before helping others with theirs. The theory is, if you pass out, your small child or disabled companion might not be able to put your mask on for you. But if they pass out, you can still get one onto them.
This also applies to caregiving. Someone with Alzheimer’s typically needs a lot of care, especially in the later stages. If you don’t look after yourself, not only will you be unable to help them, but you might end up needing care yourself. Enlist a combination of friends, family, and professional caregivers to help you carve out time for yourself.
Use this time for self-care. Whether you relax in a hot bath, go to the movies with a friend, or sit and write in a journal, you will be much stronger mentally when you return. Get exercise! Be sure to mix in some physical activity along with a healthy meal.
Allow the Grieving Process to Happen
Alzheimer’s is a progressive disease that some refer to as a long goodbye. It’s perfectly normal and healthy to grieve along the way. Don’t try to fight it. Instead, strive to accept your feelings as they come. Support groups can be incredibly helpful, but remember that your grief journey is your own. You might experience it differently than others in your group, and that’s okay.
Seek Professional Guidance Before Becoming Overwhelmed
Caregiver stress and burnout are very real, and many people need a bit of assistance coping with them. Joining a support group can help, but it’s not always enough. If you’re feeling symptoms of anxiety or depression, reach out to a professional therapist. Look for a health psychologist or someone who understands the unique challenges of caring for someone with Alzheimer’s.
Being a family caregiver takes persistence, dedication, and a whole lot of love. But you can’t do it alone. Marshal your resources and prioritize your own well-being. Caregiver mental health is crucial. You’ll be a better caregiver for it.