Continuing the discussion I started last week on Alzheimer’s, this week I’m focusing on caregiving. It’s a job fraught with issues, dotted with moments of joy, filled with endless exhaustion, frustration and guilt.
Stress is a normal part of life. From making decisions at work or picking the right daycare to deciding what to wear on a date, stress comes in a variety of sizes and colors. It can elevate our blood pressure, give us a stomach ache, heighten our senses, and leave us exhausted. But while it’s normal to deal with some type of stress everyday, too much of it will wear us out and eventually ruin our health.
Caregiving is stressful. Period. While it has good moments as well as bad, it’s a 24/7 kind of stress that will lead to depression, poor health, even death if it’s not managed carefully. Unfortunately, caregivers, especially those caring for an aging parent or a disabled child, may not realize they’re headed for disaster until it strikes.
If you are a caregiver, or know someone who is, here are 10 signs of stress/burnout to watch for from the Alzheimer’s Association:
* Denial (refusing to recognize the issues at hand; insisting “things will work out”)
* Anger (at the person needing care, at siblings who “won’t help,” at yourself)
* Social Withdrawal (it’s just too much work to get together with friends)
* Anxiety about the future (what happens if…when…)
* Depression (becoming hard to care about anything anymore)
* Exhaustion (too tired to do anything, even things that would be fun)
* Sleeplessness (the ever-present demands keep the mind active through the night, fear that the loved one will wander or do something dangerous)
* Irritability (towards everyone and everything including the loved one)
* Lack of concentration (forgetting activities, events, appointments)
* Health Problems (mental health, physical health crop up)
If you or someone you know is exhibiting any or all of these symptoms, it’s time for a visit to the doctor. After the doctor visit, here are a few other ways to deal with the stress of caregiving:
Don’t go it alone. Accept help when it’s offered, or actively seek it out. There’s nothing noble in trying to shoulder all of the responsibility yourself. Burning out won’t give your loved one the care they need.
Find and use available resources. There are numerous resources available for caregivers, from online articles with helpful tips to websites local or online support groups. See below for suggestions.
Get educated. A knowledgeable caregiver is a healthier caregiver. Understand the disease your loved one is dealing with. Attend seminars. Read up on it. The more you know, the less frightening the disease will be.
Relax. Far easier said than done, of course. Make an appointment for a massage. Sign up for a yoga class. Revive or start a hobby – something that’s just for you (take a cooking class with a friend, learn calligraphy, go the library and read for fun).
Take care of yourself. Just as the flight attendants remind us to put on our own oxygen mask first to be able to care for those around us, it’s essential caregivers take care o their own health in order to be at their best for their loved one. Make regular doctor appointments. Eat regularly and make healthy choices. Treat yourself once in awhile.
Here are some practical tips for caregivers:
Hire a professional caregiver, even for just a few hours a week. There are hundreds of choices in the Minneapolis/St. Paul metro area so do your homework. Ask friends and neighbors for referrals. When checking out an agency ask for references and check them out. Ask questions. Don’t sign on for more care than your loved one needs (e.g., hiring a nursing agency when your loved one only needs companionship). Stay in close communication with the agency.
Attend local health fairs, conferences, etc. to learn, grow and stay current on research and options.The Meeting of the Minds conference in St. Paul is filled with educational workshops, vendors offering services and products, and a chance to visit with other caregivers.
New products come out regularly to make daily living easier, safer, even happier. Check out stores like Marbles, or online business like the Vital Home Store to discover ways to simplify life for you and your loved one.
Caregiving is a high-stress job with often few external rewards. Caring for yourself should be the first way you care for your loved one.