The Challenges to the Health of Alzheimer’s Caregivers
If you are caring for someone with Alzheimer’s or dementia, it can be easy to lose sight of your own health and happiness, since these diseases tend to be so demanding and often at all hours of the night and day.
Alzheimer’s patients can forget about the needs of someone caring for them and lose touch with reality, time and schedules. Caring for these people can be a long and stressful journey. It can be highly emotional to see how the disease can remove the empathy and ability to understand the impact of their demands on everyone around them, especially for a family member. Caregiving can be “all-consuming” as the cognitive, physical and functional abilities of your loved one diminishes over time. This burden of responsibility can put the caregivers at risk for significant health problems and an estimated 30 – 40 percent of dementia caregivers will experience depression, high levels of stress, or burnout. Nearly all Alzheimer’s or dementia caregivers will feel loneliness, anxiety and exhaustion, as well as sadness and a feeling of complete hopelessness or frustration as the disease takes its toll.
Each individual with Alzheimer’s disease progresses differently, and so does each caregiver. There are many strategies that can help make the journey a little easier. Learning all you can about the disease and the manifestations of the steps may help to prepare for the challenges, and hopefully some rewards along the way.
As the disease advances, needs change and responsibilities can become more challenging. There are deep rewards to be experienced and it is best not to lose sight of what those. Spending so much time together with a patient, whether a family member or a client; deepens bonds and enhances companionship. There are great rewards in assisting the patient to see the benefits of problem solving skills, and work out different ways to do everyday tasks in a manner that best allows the patient to stay productive. Learning patience and a way to reduce frustrations helps in many stages. The patient may have reduced cognitive powers, so to protect the caregiver’s own sanity, it is important to stay organized, plan ahead and stay positive about the fact that all may suddenly change. Make sure to stay connected with your family and friends, and arrange for coverage to allow you to have a break for caring.
Moderate Alzheimer’s disease often has more than just memory loss, and will start to show in trouble planning and following instructions; simple tasks like getting dressed become a challenge, and showing restlessness and impatience increases. The patient may lose sense of time and what day it is, so it is important for a caregiver to keep their own perspective on the passage of time. People with Alzheimer’s can have personality changes and may make threats, accuse others of stealing, or become violent, as well as confused. Since they cannot be left alone, this is such an important time to ensure you can have regular breaks, even for a couple of hours, to just relax and not to be on call or on guard. Finding a support group for Caregivers taking care of someone who is in the same stage of AD as the person you are taking care of. You may be able to find a group online if there is not a local one to attend. When unable to go out for a couple of hours, take a stretch break and try to do a puzzle or game
Sharing with family and friends some simple gatherings, like family reunions, meals or visits.
Get regular checkups at your doctor’s office, and make sure to explain your situation since they need to be aware of any extra stressful situations.
The 10 signs of Caregiver Stress:
- Thinking the patient is going to get better – to be in denial of the illness.
- Anger and frustration at the illness and the Alzheimer's patient
- Social withdrawal from all external contact and activities.
- Depression, which makes you feel you cannot continue
- Anxiety about the future
- Exhaustion that makes everyday functions difficult
- Lack of sleep
- Irritability that causes negativity and short temper
- Lack of concentration - too busy and preoccupied
- Health problems that begin to take a mental and physical toll.
Dr Sally Warren, Naturopath
Metro Integrative Pharmacy
Advice from the Naturopath
Alzheimer’s Disease is tough on everyone, from the patient through to the caregiver. The patient may be completely unaware of how hard they are being on their caregiver, or the physical and emotional toll of the constant demands.
Caregivers need support, and at times do not know how to ask, and may feel they do not want to be a burden or bother. It is important to plan support together with the family, or local social services, if no family is available locally.
Support through supplements for relief of stress can be a great help, and spending even 5 or 10 minutes at regular intervals through the day stretching, or meditating to stay calm and keep everything in perspective.
For stress relief, Ashwagandha is an excellent adaptogenic herb which helps the body find peace through natural means, by lowering cortisol and balancing the thyroid hormones. Other natural stress relief can be achieved with:
Rhodiola - boosts energy and brain
Pharma GABA - a neurotransmitter, which helps the brain increase Alpha brain waves to achieve a sense of relaxation and improved mental focus.
It is important to maintain optimal health and ensure the immune system stays strong, so increasing vital vitamins with good quality multivitamins, and immune boosters like Wellness Formula, Lifeshield Immune Support and herbal tinctures including Echinacea and Goldenseal, and as a strong and safe anti-bacterial use colloidal silver to use externally for wipes and to take internally to prevent against infection and illness.
Take breaks when possible and always recognize the fact that you provide a stable environment to your patient so should keep yourself healthy and stable emotionally and physically, not only for them, but also for yourself.
This information is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions about your medical condition. The information in this article is for educational purposes only.