Scope of the issue: In 2014 five million people in the United States had Alzheimer’s disease. By 2050 the number of people living with Alzheimer’s disease is expected to approach 16 million.
According to the Alzheimer’s Association in 2013 17.7 billion hours of unpaid care was given in the U.S to people with Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias.
Caregiver stress causes havoc in people’s lives and is responsible for lost wages and productivity.
The rate of burnout, the development of depression and other health problems occur the longer someone is providing care.
Here are some tips to help you care for yourself while you care for your loved one:
Acknowledge that this is hard work Caregivers are like other hard workers in that they ignore themselves to get the job done. Unlike working outside of the home they don’t often get to leave “the office” at the end of the day. They are exhausted and they just keep going without giving themselves permission to stop and acknowledge their own hard work.
In 2014 there were 65.7 million of you, according to the Family Caregiver Alliance.
Acknowledge that you are not alone and you are doing the best you can. • Ground yourself As you know, caregiving takes you outside of yourself. It’s easy to ignore your own body when you are involved in taking care of someone else. Here are two grounding techniques.
Take a deep breath in and out, as your loved one is calling you over and over again. Take a breath in for 4 seconds. Imagine the breath coming into your feet and up through the top of your head. Hold it for 8 seconds and let the cleansing breath relax the stressed areas of your body. Exhale for 8 seconds and let the stress melt away. Repeat often.
Look around and feel your feet on the ground. Feel the earth supporting you. Repeat often.
Anything that can bring you back to yourself is helpful. • Treat yourself as often as you can Caregivers often feel neglected themselves. You need to refuel yourself in order to take care of someone else effectively. Here are some ideas:
Take a hot bath, give yourself a hand massage, take a walk, call a friend, put headphones on and listen to music, meditate, exercise, go to the gym, go running, lift weights, do Tai Chi or yoga, think about what you love or used to love and do it.
You will have more energy to care for your loved one and you’ll be a happier person. • Know that this won’t last forever The saying that all good things come to an end is true for this difficult time as well. • Finding common ground Think about what can you do together that would be meaningful and give you good memories. Some examples are looking at old photographs, hearing old family stories (if your loved one is verbal), singing (many people with dementia can sing even if they do not speak), enjoy listening to music together, or watching a favorite television show. • Get help Reach out to friends, family, neighbors, or clergy. Find a support group, therapist, or call a crisis center. Some physician’s offices have social workers. Your local hospital may have a community outreach or education center. Call your local Alzheimer’s Association or any resource you can find.
Remember that you are not alone. Reach out. You’ll be glad you did.
I hope these suggestions help you maintain your own mental and physical health while you navigate the rough caregiving terrain.
Dr. Wendi Lovenvirth