Don’t forget to Care for Yourself while caring for someone with Alzheimer’s
“Alzheimer’s is not a sprint. It’s a marathon.” This was what the memory care center manager told us during our first care conference. It took a while for this to sink in fully. She was encouraging our family to find a balance between caring for our loved one who has Alzheimer’s and still maintaining a life for ourselves. A sprinter focuses on speed for a short distance but soon runs out of strength. Just as a marathon runner trains for endurance, an Alzheimer’s caregiver must approach this disease with the long run in mind.
When we first became responsible for an aunt with Alzheimer’s, our lives drastically changed. It often felt as if our lives were spinning out of control. There was little time for anything or anyone other than Aunt Betty. We finally realized that it would be impossible to continue at the same pace. If we failed to take care of ourselves, we might not be able to continue caring for her. Alzheimers can be a long, slow process. It is essential that Alzheimers caregivers take care of themselves, too.
An often-neglected area for us has been diet and exercise. Weight control has always been a losing battle in our family. Unfortunately, our first response to stress is to eat. The result has been not only weight gain, but increased cholesterol levels. A poor diet leaves you feeling tired and sluggish. Exercise is not an option when you feel so exhausted. That further complicates the health risks. A healthy diet and exercise will help a caregiver finish the marathon called Alzheimer’s disease.
Another area we’ve struggled with involves relaxation time. In order to adequately tend to Aunt Betty’s needs, we have to allow ourselves time away from the demands of Alzheimer’s care. Time away should not be accompanied with guilt. Ask other family members or friends to take your place as caregiver to allow you some time for yourself. Sometimes time away may be only a few minutes.
Mood swings and aggression are typical for the person suffering from Alzheimer’s. Trying to deal with these moods can be exhausting, too. In the beginning of our journey with my aunt’s illness, we tried to reason with her when she became irritable. Sometimes she said very hurtful things to us. Learning to walk away during those episodes was a huge step toward maintaining our sanity and well-being. It’s necessary to do that sometimes.
Remember that people with Alzheimer’s may have already lost the ability to reason. Attempting to reason with them may create more frustration for both of you. Your health may depend on walking away for a few minutes, too.
Find Alzheimers help in support groups whenever possible. The advantage of such a group is that you can learn from the experiences of others who are further along in the journey. You can learn what to expect and get advice on how to face the challenges ahead. We’ve learned so many things by trial and error. If we’d been involved in an Alzheimers support group, we might have found the road a little less bumpy.
Alzheimer’s support groups are usually available at churches, community centers, facilities specializing in memory care, and nursing homes. Check your local yellow pages for groups in your area. If you’re not comfortable in a group setting, a private session with a licensed counselor or pastor could prove helpful.
Finally, make it a priority to have relationships with others who have no connection with Alzheimer’s. Everything in your life does not have to be about the disease. For your own mental, physical, and emotional health, develop friendships with people who can provide an escape.
Having traveled the road herself, Lisa W. Smith is an expert at helping Alzheimer’s caregivers cope with the emotional, financial, and legal stress of caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s. She has created an electrifying report, “An Alzheimer’s Horror Story: Killing Her Slowly!” which highlights part of this journey. For a FREE copy of this report, visit: http://www.AlzheimersOnlineTips.com.