It’s normal to experience some stress when providing care for someone with Alzheimer’s — but chronic stress isn’t healthy and it isn’t something you should ignore. Long-term stress can increase your risk of developing conditions such as heart disease, strokes, digestive problems, and depression, so it’s very important to monitor and manage stress in your daily life.
Both detecting the stress and coping with it can be harder than you might expect. Below are some steps you can take now to diffuse some of the pressure you’re may experience in day-to-day life. If you think you might be experiencing chronic stress or depression, speak to a healthcare professional as soon as possible.
1. When working with a person with Alzheimer’s disease, caregivers frequently find that adjustments in their approaches to daily routines and expectations are necessary. Setting care routines and activities to fit the varying levels of assistance, mood, and behaviors of the person you care for may help you feel less stress and frustration.
2. For family caregivers, there is a unique change that takes place when caregiving begins. Spouses, children, and siblings may be involved in some aspect of a relative’s daily care. Providing this care is often a role reversal and may feel uncomfortable. The changing role of a caregiver can lead to stress, but awareness and acceptance of new roles can ease stress.
3. It should be expected that when a relationship changes, there will be some accompanying feelings of loss. Caregivers can alleviate some of these feelings by participating in stress-reducing activities such as exercise, deep breathing, or visualization techniques, or simply joyful activities that provide some distraction.
4. Holding a family meeting can help you make difficult decisions. The family meeting should be planned in advance and conducted in a loving manner, encouraging each family member to voice ideas and concerns. In some cases, families may benefit from having a facilitator who will assist in keeping the conversation focused on the key objectives. A counselor, social worker, physician, or clergy member can serve in this role.
5. Many people think of depression as sadness, or feel embarrassed about seeking help. But it’s important to be aware of other symptoms of depression and to protect your own well-being. These include feeling helpless, hopeless, worthless or guilty, nervous or irritable, or restless or sluggish, as well as a lack of energy, concentration or memory problems, loss of interest in pleasant activities, difficulty sleeping, aches and pains, or appetite or weight changes. If you are experiencing any of these conditions more than only occasionally, you should consider talking with your doctor.
6. Taking steps to take care of yourself may seem difficult when caregiving, but are critical. Four stress-busters include:
- Eat and sleep regularly.
- Consider using a regular respite caregiver or program to allow for personal time each week.
- Ask for more help from friends, family, and neighbors.
- Join a support group for Alzheimer’s disease caregivers.
7. Writing your personal story can be a powerful and therapeutic stress relieving tool for you. It can be long or short, elaborate or simple, but try to say in your own words what being a caregiver has meant to you. Be sure to include the benefits you have gained as well as the challenges experienced.
8. Include activities that bring you joy in your daily and weekly plans, whenever you can, such as:
- Daily relaxation
- Socializing with friends or neighbors
- Talking on the phone or FaceTime
- Praying or meditation
- Bird watching
For more information about detecting and managing stress as a caregiver, visit ARARF’s lessons on Detecting Caregiver Stress, Burden, and Depression and Caregiver Stress Coping Strategies.