Most people simply dive in to the responsibility of caring for someone with Alzheimer’s disease and then take it one day at a time. That sounds like the best course of action right? Before you find yourself combating both his disease and your own emotional strain and battle fatigue, be sure you have these stress-busters on your side. If you don’t cover yourself first then your no help to him.
You really do need to come first on the priority list, not last. It’s almost too easy to neglect your own needs when you’re juggling caregiving, a job, a marriage, and children.
But just as with tending to a child, caring for a sick person can be depleting. If you fail to keep an eye on your own mental and physical health, you’re vulnerable to everything from colds and other illnesses right up to burnout.
No one can keep up with the round-the-clock demands of Alzheimer’s care — even in the early stages — without periodic relief. Indeed, caregiver burnout is a primary reason Alzheimer’s patients enter nursing homes.
Make time for yourself every single day, even if it’s just a 20-minute walk while a neighbor pays a visit. Don’t abandon all your former interests and hobbies to support someone with Alzheimer’s.
You don’t have to eat the same food as him (especially if he’s down to simple, easy-to-manage foods), but neither do you have to subsist on drive-thru fare. Stock up on nutritious, easy-to-grab snacks if time is an issue.
Getting enough sleep is a special concern: To help yourself fall asleep, try incorporating some relaxation exercises or meditation into your nighttime routine. Some people benefit from yoga, tai chi, or deep breathing exercises. A good tension release is progressive muscle relaxation, a technique that calls for tightening and relaxing all of your major muscle groups, one by one.
Your wind-down can be as classic as a warm bath or a good book. Whatever your choice, make it routine — at about the same time each evening, if you can — to help your mind associate the activity with rest. Reorganize your bedroom so that it’s a haven rather than a cluttered workspace.
Get a medical exam yourself, and be sure to tell your doctor about your situation. She may be able to give you some strategies to deal with stress and anxiety, and can help you identify signs of clinical depression and, if needed, treatment options.
The Ability to Ask for Help
Alzheimer’s care can be all-consuming, and it’s a common caregiver temptation — and mistake — to take it all on yourself. Having ample help keeps Alzheimer’s caregivers functioning longer and more smoothly.
Of course, asking for help isn’t always easy. You may not want to bother others with what you see as a family matter or your responsibility. Sometimes it seems easier to do it yourself than to get another person involved.
In fact, most people around you are more than happy to pitch in but often have no idea what they can do for you, so they may not volunteer except in a general way. When you do ask, they’re apt to be relieved that they can be of use and have the opportunity to show their affection for you or the person with Alzheimer’s.
Make a list of everyone who might help you manage his new life, along with contact information. Always put Family and friends first on that list.
Give thought to what kind of specific help each person might provide, no matter how large or small. For example, a neighbor might pick up groceries while she does her own shopping. A teenage cousin might be able to drive the patient to medical appointments or run errands.
Add to the list every individual who volunteers or asks, “How can I help?” Include people who would help you simply by being an understanding companion to call or visit.
Then make another list of all the tasks you feel responsible for on a daily basis. Of those:
- What can you delegate?
- What can you outsource to a paid provider (food delivery, cleaning services, pharmacy by mail)?
- Who can run errands for you?
- Who can spell you for a matter of minutes or hours?
If someone can’t help, they’ll tell you. But you’ll never know all that they can do to ease your load unless you first ask. When you can, take a longer break by recruiting someone else to take over the primary-caregiver role for a day, a weekend, or even longer. Remember, you don’t have to do it all yourself.