ccording to the Alzheimer’s Association, more than 6 million individuals live with Alzheimer’s Disease in the United States. Alzheimer’s is a neurodegenerative disease mostly known for its key features of memory decline and confusion but can include many more symptoms across cognitive, behavioral, and psychological domains. Individuals with Alzheimer’s can present with aggressive behavior, difficulty with self-care, apathy, mood swings, hallucinations, jumbled speech, lack of restraint, and paranoia. More than 11 million Americans provide unpaid care for individuals with Alzheimer’s or other dementias; these usually include family members or friends. Fifty-nine percent of dementia caregivers report high or very high-stress levels associated with the care of a demented family member (Alzheimer’s Association, 2021). Chronic stress produces both physical and psychological symptoms that can be detrimental to an individual’s ability to function in their daily life.
Caregivers are often so immersed in assisting a family member with these conditions, that they overlook the signs of their compromised health and well-being. Learning to recognize the signs is the first step in making sure caregivers can tend to themselves better to extend care for someone else. Observe for signs like feeling tired, overwhelmed, or constantly worried, and monitor any sleep or weight changes. Pay attention to feelings of sadness, losing interest in activities previously enjoyed, or becoming irritated often. Physical symptoms such as frequent headaches, bodily pain, or abusing substances are also essential to monitor and can be a sign of chronic stress.
Some strategies that may be helpful when dealing with caregiver stress include accepting help. Have a list of tasks that others may help with and let them decide what they can provide, like running an errand, cooking, or taking the person out for a walk. It is also essential to seek out the caregiving resources in the community, as many have programs that can provide more information about the disease and provide resources for transportation, meal deliveries, housekeeping, or respite care. Set realistic goals and focus on what can be provided to the individual. Sometimes, it is easier to break large tasks into smaller ones, and it often helps to make a list and establish a daily routine. Sometimes, it is normal to feel guilty; however, nobody is perfect, and caregivers should be kind to themselves about how much they can do. It is vital to prioritize what is most important and believe that the best care is being provided under the current circumstances as a caregiver.
Often, taking care of a loved one can become very complex and make caregivers feel isolated. It is imperative to seek social support when this happens. Make an effort to stay connected with family and friends who can offer emotional support or join a support group that can provide validation, encouragement, and problem-solving strategies for difficult situations (Adelman et al., 2014). Finally, it is essential to set personal health goals to establish good sleep routines, find time to be physically active, and maintain healthy eating habits. Also, caregivers should be sure to visit their doctor for routine check-ups and explain any symptoms related to caregiver stress they may be experiencing (Lynn, 2014). To get started on asking for help, contact the local Area Agency on Aging (AAA) to learn more about services in the community.
Adelman RD, Tmanova LL, Delgado D, Dion S, Lachs MS. Caregiver burden: a clinical review. JAMA. 2014 Mar 12;311(10):1052-60. doi: 10.1001/jama.2014.304. PMID: 24618967.
Alzheimer’s Association. 2021 Alzheimer’s Disease Facts and Figures. Alzheimer’s Dement 2021.
Lynn J. Strategies to ease the burden of family caregivers. JAMA. 2014 Mar 12;311(10):1021-2. doi: 10.1001/jama.2014.1769. PMID: 24618963.