The 2019 Alzheimer’s Disease Report, released by the Alzheimer’s Association, refers to caregiving as “attending to another person’s health needs.” A caregiver can be a family member: a wife, a husband, a daughter, a son, a close family friend, or a life partner. No matter the blood relationship, caregiving is a labor of love, which is often without financial compensation and can take a toll physically, emotionally, socially, and financially on a caregiver.
The intensity of care provided by a caregiver can usually range between three levels: moderate, involved and complete care. Caregiving tasks on a moderate level may include assistance with activities of daily living (ADLs), such as bathing, dressing and meal preparation. A caregiver in a more involved role may offer assistance with instrumental activities of daily living (IADLs), such as shopping, paying bills, running errands, and coordinating medical appointments. In the case of person(s) living with dementia, in particular those with Alzheimer’s disease, a caregiver’s level of involvement changes and becomes more intensive as the disease progresses. This will ultimately lead the person living with Alzheimer’s disease to being completely dependent upon their caregiver.
Successful caregiving takes time, patience, self-care, organization, and flexibility. Failure to find a healthy balance of these attributes could lead to stress, exhaustion, poor health, depression, guilt, and isolation, all primary indicators of caregiver burnout.
Taking care of yourself is one of the most important things you can do as a caregiver. The National Institute on Aging, (NIA) recommends the following tips to avoid caregiver burnout:
- Ask for help and accept it when you need it. If family and friends offer their time or ask how can they help, take them up on their offer and be very specific in what you need them to do. Tell them you need an hour to go exercise or run errands. Hand over that shopping list you just made out or ask them to make a few dishes for meals.
- Exercise daily. Go for a brisk walk, ride your bike or take an exercise class. The NIA Go4Life Fitness Campaign recommends that you get at least 30 minutes of exercise or physical activity, five days per week.
- Eat healthy foods. Eating a healthy, balanced diet rich in nuts, fruits, vegetables, and fiber is essential to maintaining a healthy body weight. A well-planned diet may also reduce risks of certain types of cancer and other chronic illnesses such as heart disease and type 2 diabetes. Click here to learn more about making healthy food choices.
- Socialize. Spend time with your friends.
- Keep up with your hobbies and interests. Make time for yourself!
- Manage your stress. Stress can lead to high blood pressure, headaches, insomnia, and irritability. Learn more about stress and relaxation techniques on the National Institutes of Health, (NIH) website.
- See your doctor for regular physicals and health screenings, such as blood pressure and cholesterol.
- Keep your health, legal, and financial information up-to-date. Consult a lawyer or legal aid to help you organize health, living wills and estate affairs.
- Join a caregivers’ support group. Support groups can meet in-person or online to share experiences, resources and tips. Check with your patient’s doctor or the Alzheimer’s Association for your local meetings.
- Take full advantage of the resources available to you. Call a home health care provider or adult day care services when you need them. To find providers in your area, contact Eldercare Locator at 1-800-677-1116 or www.eldercare.gov.
Caregiving can be challenging but it does not have to be overwhelming. Know that you are doing your best for the person in your care. Let go of the guilt and accept that things will occur that may be out of your control and/or abilities. Staying connected, accepting assistance, and being aware of community resources and other care options can help you have better control of your day and enjoy quality time with your loved one.
Write to Chrishun Brown at Chrishun_m_brown@rush.edu