Recognizing that your elderly parent or loved one can no longer care for themselves is a difficult process. Working to meet the complex needs of elderly loved ones can take its toll on caregivers, especially for those tasked with the daily challenges of full time work and parenting duties. In many cases, caregivers are adult children and relatives of those suffering from various forms of dementia, which is a severe decline in mental functioning that interferes with daily life. Alzheimer's disease is the most common form of dementia. The heart wrenching conflict of wanting to do what is best for the person who once cared for them against the reality of time calls for constant balance and sacrifice.
When trying to meet the needs of others it is very easy to neglect self-care. As you take on the responsibilities of caring for and looking after the health of a loved one with dementia, it is important that you also look after your own. It is normal for caregivers to experience stress, however, if left untreated, such stress can have negative impacts on your physical and mental health.
The Alzheimer's Association shares 10 tips to help caregivers manage stress and live healthier lives:
1. Find time for yourself.
Consider taking advantage of respite care so you can spend time doing something you enjoy. Respite care provides caregivers with temporary rest from caregiving, while the person with Alzheimer’s disease continues to receive care in a safe environment.
2. Become an educated caregiver.
As your loved one’s condition progresses, it may become necessary to adopt new caregiving skills. The Alzheimer's Association offers programs to help you better understand and cope with common behavioral and personality changes that may occur.
3. Get help and find support.
If stress becomes overwhelming, seek professional help. There are great sources for finding comfort and reassurance such as counseling sessions and local support groups. The Alzheimer’s Association offers a 24/7 Helpline (800-272-3900) and online resources and social community networking to help provide care and support to caregivers and families.
4. Take care of yourself.
Try to eat well, exercise and get plenty of rest. Making sure that you are healthy can help you be a better caregiver.
5. Manage your level of stress.
Stress can cause physical problems such as blurred vision, stomach irritation and high blood pressure. It can also cause changes in behavior such as irritability, lack of concentration and changes in appetite. Note your symptoms and discuss with a doctor, as needed. Try to find relaxation techniques that work for you to help reduce and manage stress.
6. Accept changes as they occur.
People with Alzheimer’s disease and similar conditions change over time, which means their needs do too. They may require care beyond what you can provide on your own. Becoming aware of community resources — from home care services to residential care — can make the transition easier for you and those around you.
7. Make legal and financial plans.
Putting legal and financial plans in place after an Alzheimer’s diagnosis is important so that the person with the disease can participate. Having future plans in place can provide comfort to the entire family. Many documents, including advance directives, can be prepared without the help of an attorney. However, if you are unsure about how to complete legal documents or make financial plans, you may want to seek assistance from an attorney specializing in elder law, a financial advisor who is familiar with elder or long-term care planning, or both.
8. Know you're doing your best.
Remember that the care you provide makes a difference and that you are doing the best you can. You may feel guilty because you can’t do more, but individual care needs change as Alzheimer’s progresses. You can’t promise how care will be delivered, but you can make sure that the person with the disease is well cared for and safe.
9. Visit your doctor regularly.
Take time to get regular checkups, and be aware of what your body is telling you.
Pay attention to any exhaustion, stress, sleeplessness or changes in appetite or behavior. Ignoring symptoms can cause your physical and mental health to decline.
10. Know what community resources are available.
Adult day programs, in-home assistance, companions and meal delivery are just some of the services that can help you manage daily tasks.
At Hillcrest Hospital Henryetta we offer individualized care and treatment plans for adults age 50 and older experiencing mental health difficulties and emotional stress in need of a secure, therapeutic environment. Our Behavioral Health for Seniors program is a specialized, inpatient program that caters to the unique needs of each patient in order to reduce symptoms and enhance quality of life. In an effort to assist caregivers, we provide transportation to and from the hospital, depending on availability.
If you or someone you know would benefit from our Behavioral Health for Seniors program, please call (918) 650-1359 or (800) 219-5298.