“In 2009, nearly 66 million Americans (three in 10 U.S. households) reported at least one person providing unpaid care as a family caregiver,” according to “Caregiver Care,” an article published in the journal American Family Physician. Caring for loved ones has several benefits, including personal fulfillment and satisfaction from helping to relieve another’s suffering. It can bring people together and create a stronger bond. It can be a way of “giving back,” as caregivers were taken care of as children at one time or another.
Being a caregiver is also associated with physical, psychological and financial burdens. Taking care of a loved one with Alzheimer’s can be as difficult as it is rewarding. Many people quit their jobs to take on this role, causing a financial toll on the family. Then there’s the sleepless nights, doctors appointments, and developing a safe environment and familiar routine. There’s also the actual administration of medications, cooking, cleaning, laundry and managing the finances. It can be very overwhelming. Because a stressed out caretaker can be unsafe for the person with Alzheimer’s, it is vital for the doctor to address the caretaker’s needs and mental state on a regular basis.
The caregiver burden
Various tools have been developed to provide information about the activities and concerns of the caretakers who care for patients with Alzheimer’s disease. One of the earliest and most widely used tools is the Caregiver Burden Scale, a self-administered, 22-item questionnaire with a five-item response set ranging from “never” to “nearly always.” The numbers for the responses are added to obtain the total score, with higher scores indicating greater caregiver distress.
Caregiver distress can be dangerous to not only to the caregiver but also to the person with Alzheimer’s disease. Many caregivers report:
- having less time for family and friends
- having increased emotional stress
- neglecting self-care, such as healthy sleep, exercise and dietary habits
Caregiver distress can lead to depression, lack of empathy and fatigue, causing caregivers themselves to undergo treatment with medications.
The importance of self-care
It is important for caregivers of Alzheimer’s patients to take care of themselves, or else they will not be able to take care of the patient. To practice self-care, caregivers should:
- take time to take breaks
- take care of their health, too
- eat a healthy diet
- exercise regularly
- practice preventive health care
- get regular physicals
- locate support groups when needed
- join a helpful support group
If you are extremely overstressed and overworked, consider having a second caregiver so you can split up the time. Keep in mind that self-care is not selfish. Self-care is taking care of yourself so you are emotionally, physically and mentally strong enough to take care of your loved one with Alzheimer’s disease.