Self care for dementia caregivers

It’s easy to lose sight of yourself while providing care. Self care for dementia caregivers and other care givers is critical, but it is frequently overlooked by many. 

There has been a lot of research done on this. If you are an older caregiver who is under emotional stress, your risk of death is 63% higher than that of non-caregivers your age. Loss, long-term stress, physical demands, and aging all make you vulnerable to health problems and premature death.

However, it is not only registered caregivers who are at risk. You are at risk of depression, chronic illness, and a decline in quality of life if you are a less experienced daughter or son caring for your elderly parents, working, and raising children.

Family caregivers, regardless of age, frequently ignore their own health and well-being. They face challenges in managing their health while juggling caregiving responsibilities. This is the same across all ages, genders, races, and ethnicities. They often experience:

  • Lack of sleep
  • Poor dietary choices
  • Lack of physical activity
  • Ignoring their health when they are sick
  • Neglecting or delaying their medical appointments

Caregivers are also more susceptible to chronic illnesses, such as high cholesterol, high blood pressure, or obesity, compared to non-caregivers. According to studies, between 46 and 59 percent of caregivers suffer from clinical depression.

This is why caregivers must prioritize their health and take frequent breaks. This article will explain everything you need to know about self-care for caregivers, specifically dementia caregivers, and how they can make time to care for themselves as well as what to do.

Self-care for Dementia caregivers

Being a caregiver, especially for dementia patients, is a challenging yet gratifying role. In the US, unpaid caregivers, including family and friends, provide an astounding 83% of help to older adults.

Almost half of these caregivers assist someone with Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia. The act of caring for a loved one can bring immense joy, but it can also be physically and emotionally draining, often leading to exhaustion.

According to Facts and Figures, dementia caregivers are more likely to experience depression and anxiety compared to non-caregivers. In states like California and Nevada, over half of the caregivers reported at least one chronic health condition.

That’s why self-care is crucial for caregivers. It’s not just about maintaining physical health, but mental well-being too. This might involve seeking help from family and friends, pursuing activities that bring joy, or even getting help from a home healthcare service.

These steps could provide some relief and help prevent illness or depression. Remember, taking care of yourself is one of the most important things you can do as a caregiver.

Self care for dementia caregivers
Photo by Andrea Piacquadio:

6 Self care for dementia caregivers

Regular self-care is vital to prevent chronic stress from harming your health. Here’s a simple six-step guide:

1. Ease your thoughts and let your mind unwind

It’s crucial to find time for relaxation, especially when stress levels are high. Meditation is an effective self-care technique for dementia caregivers to combat stress, depression, and anxiety.

Getting Started:

  • Use resources such as meditation books, videos, or apps like Calm, Headspace, or Insight Timer as your guide.
  • See if your local community center offers meditation classes. It can be more motivating to practice with others.
  • Don’t be afraid to try different types of meditation until you find what works best for you.
  • Incorporate mindful breathing into your daily routine. Meditation doesn’t require a specific posture or setting, even focusing on your breath can be meditative.
  • Spend quality time with family, cooking, and having fun. This can also be a great way to relax and enjoy.

2. Don’t overlook your personal needs

It’s easy to overlook personal needs, which can lead to anxiety and depression. Prioritizing yourself may feel strange at first, and it’s normal to feel guilty. However, tending to your own needs replenishes your energy, enabling you to provide the best care for your loved one.

Here’s how to begin:

  1. Allocate regular time to take care of yourself. This could be weekly or daily.
  2. Seek assistance from a reliable friend or family member.
  3. Trusting someone else with your loved one’s care can be challenging. Ensure the substitute caregiver is well-informed about assisting your loved one, including eating, mobility, and bathroom routines. Keep instructions, emergency contacts, and notes on any difficult behaviors and solutions in a handy notebook.
  4. Consider utilizing an adult daycare facility. This allows you some respite, while your loved one engages in social activities under professional supervision.

3. Sleep well

Many individuals caring for Dementia patients find themselves losing sleep due to their loved one’s nocturnal confusion and agitation, affecting 50 to 70% of caregivers. Chronic sleep deprivation can lead to serious health complications such as diabetes, obesity, and heart disease.

Here’s how to start prioritizing sleep:

  1. Establish a daily routine that includes a consistent bedtime and wake-up time, weekends included.
  2. Incorporate a fitness routine. Regular exercise can help you fall asleep more easily.
  3. Limit your consumption of tobacco, alcohol, and caffeine to enhance your sleep hygiene.
  4. Create a serene sleep environment by dimming lights, adjusting the room temperature, and removing electronic devices from the bedroom.

4. Prioritize physical activity

Regular, moderate-intensity exercise is beneficial for overall health as it enhances sleep quality and reduces stress and depression. Engaging in a two-session weekly workout regimen can significantly improve a caregiver’s quality of life, as well as physical and mental health.

Here’s how to get started:

  1. Incorporate physical activity into your routine, beginning with two days a week and gradually increasing as you become more comfortable.
  2. Choose activities that elevate your heart rate like walking, running, or swimming, and strength-building exercises like weight lifting or yoga.
  3. Joining a community sports league is not only a fun way to stay active but also a great opportunity to meet new people.

5. Learn more about Dementia

Increasing your knowledge about Dementia and its progression can help you better anticipate and manage the more challenging aspects of care, such as behavioral changes and safety issues.

Here’s how you can start:

  1. Start by reading dementia-related books like Steven R. Sabat’s ‘Alzheimer’s Disease and Dementia: What Everyone Should Know’, Nancy L. Mace and Peter V. Rabins’ ‘The 36-Hour Day.
  2. Join an educational program offered by the Alzheimer’s Association Northern California and Northern Nevada Chapter.
  3. Explore other ways to appreciate your brain.

6. Enhance your support networks

Having a robust support system can greatly assist you in managing the emotional and practical demands that come with caring for someone with a cognitive disease.

When a caregiver feels heard and their needs are validated, it can significantly reduce stress, fatigue, and psychological strain. Social support systems can also offer caregivers fresh perspectives and solutions to their challenges.

Here’s how you can start:

  1. Don’t hesitate to ask for help and express your feelings. Share your struggles with a friend, or spiritual advisor, through journaling, or even with your pet.
  2. Consider seeking professional help from a trained therapist who can help you cultivate stress-management tools. Cognitive behavioral therapy has been found particularly effective in reducing caregiver stress.
  3. Join a caregiver support group. Engaging in conversations with others who have had similar experiences can be incredibly beneficial, especially when dealing with difficult emotions like anger or frustration.

Handling Emotions and Stress

Being a caregiver for a Dementia patient demands a lot of time and energy. When they get angry at you, hurt your feelings, or forget who you are, it becomes tougher. You might feel down, lonely, frustrated, confused, or angry at times. These feelings are normal.

As a caregiver, your self-care is vital. Here are some affirmations to lift your spirits:

  • I’m giving my all in this situation.
  • What I’m facing would be challenging for anyone.
  • It’s perfectly fine that I’m not flawless.
  • Certain circumstances are simply out of my hands.
  • Sometimes, I need to do what’s best for the moment.
  • I’ll treasure the moments when it’s just the two of us.
  • Even if I do everything possible, the person with Dementia may continue to show difficult behaviors due to the disease, not because of my actions.

My final thought on Self care for dementia caregivers

Self-care for dementia caregivers is not just an optional luxury, it’s a necessity. Prioritizing one’s own well-being ensures that caregivers can provide the best support for their loved ones, reducing burnout and improving the quality of care.

It remains of utmost importance to note that a well-cared-for caregiver translates to better care for those with dementia.

Stay informed, practice self-love, and continue to search for effective self-care strategies. Your mental, emotional, and physical health matters.


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