by Eric T. Chaffin

Today, Alzheimer’s is the sixth leading cause of death in the U.S., with deaths from the disease increasing by 123percent between 2000 and 2005.

It’s not only the patients who suffer. Alzheimer’s Association notes that 16.1 million Americans provide unpaid care for loved ones and others with Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia, over half of whom provide care for four or more years.

These individuals are also at risk, as over time, caregiving tends to take a toll on the caregiver’s health: as much as 40% of caregivers suffer from depression. According to a study by the Alzheimer’s Immunotherapy Program and the National Alliance for Caregiving, over a period of 18 months, caregivers’ health declined “steadily and significantly.”

Those who find themselves in the position of caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia can take certain steps to improve their own coping skills and better maintain their own health and well-being.

Alzheimer’s Caregivers Need to Keep ‘Self-Care’ in Mind

After an Alzheimer’s diagnosis, most caregivers find their focus entirely on the patient. There are so many things that have to be considered and decisions to be made, to provide the best care for the loved one. Here’s where it’s important for caregivers to step back and remind themselves that self-care must come first.

Without self-care, caregivers are vulnerable to increased stress and anxiety, which can eventually lead to burnout and feelings of defeat. These feelings can lead to resentment and depression, beginning a downward spiral that eventually manifests into more serious health issues.

Self-care is the process of incorporating time for oneself into the daily schedule.

That time is best devoted to:
» Regular exercise
» Daily stress relief activities (such as meditation, yoga, time
with a pet, journaling, or a walk in the park)
» Healthy eating
» Maintaining a regular sleep routine

Though these activities can easily slip through the cracks in the midst of caregiving responsibilities, caregivers must recognize the importance of self-care not only for themselves, but for their loved ones. If a caregiver falls ill, he or she is no longer available to help the patient.

To that end, caregivers are encouraged to first recognize how important self-care is and approach their caregiving duties in a holistic manner. In other words, while planning treatment and
care for the patients, caregivers must set goals for themselves, too. It’s best if these are short-term goals, to prevent feeling overwhelmed.

Some possible self-care goals might include the following. Note that many involve accepting help from others.

» Find assistance to gain a respite at least a couple times
a month.
» Schedule in regular exercise at least five days a week.
» Discover who might be willing to pitch in on tasks like taking
care of a pet, grocery shopping or providing a meal now
and then.
» Ask the doctor for recommendations of community programs
and organizations that can help, and contact each one for
more information.

Whatever the goals may be, the important thing is to include them along with the plans for caregiving and patient monitoring, so that they aren’t forgotten or neglected. Writing them down and
posting them somewhere visible can also help to keep self-care front and center in a caregiver’s mind.