Taking care of someone with Alzheimer’s disease can be physically and emotionally demanding. “The truth is I am feeling quite burnt out as she argues with me, and I am unable to even watch the TV shows I enjoy,” one myALZteam member shared. Recognizing when you are feeling burned out and practicing self-care is essential to ensure your own long-term health and wellness.
According to Dr. Jennifer Davis, a neuropsychologist at Rhode Island Hospital, “Caregiving is a marathon, it is not a sprint.”
Here are six self-care tips for caregivers and family members of people living with Alzheimer’s disease to find the strength to keep going on extra-hard days.
Dr. Davis advises every caregiver to look after themselves and to monitor a few key areas: “How is your family doing? How are you socializing? How is your health? How is your mood?”
Reflecting on your own needs, whether in a daily journal or with a therapist, can help you assess whether you are experiencing burnout.
Everyone experiences burnout differently. According to Cleveland Clinic, warning signs of burnout may include:
Recognizing that you are burned out is the first step to restoring your mental and physical health.
Being the primary caregiver for a loved one living with Alzheimer’s can be isolating. However, you are not alone. By participating in support groups, you can connect with other dementia caregivers who understand your challenges. Sharing experiences and seeking advice on myALZteam can be invaluable to feeling connected to others in this journey. Additional support groups for dementia care providers can be found on the Alzheimer’s Association website.
Outside of attending to your caregiver responsibilities, it is important to stay socially connected with friends and family. Loneliness can contribute to burnout, so make an effort to maintain relationships and engage in activities outside of caregiving. This is easier said than done with a busy schedule and many responsibilities, but even the occasional phone call, video chat, or coffee with a friend can make a huge impact on your mood.
“Sometimes, changing the focus to yourself is necessary in order to maintain yourself as a healthy caregiver,” Dr. Davis commented.
Maintaining your physical health will help you cope with the demands of caregiving. In order to take care of your physical health, it is important to eat nutritious meals, exercise regularly, and get enough sleep.
Your mental health is one of the first things to be affected by caregiver burnout and is just as important as your physical health.
Some simple, low-cost ways to restore your mental health include engaging in stress-reducing activities and relaxation techniques like deep breathing exercises, mindfulness meditation, or yoga. These practices can help you relax and restore balance in your life.
Oftentimes, caregivers find that seeing a therapist is a good first step toward tackling burnout. Seeing a therapist who is an expert in family counseling can help you cope with caregiver stress. Your therapist may notice that you are experiencing burnout before you do and provide you with personalized advice and exercises to maintain your resilience.
To add onto the stress of caregiving, financial concerns are a common contributor to caregiver burnout. Perhaps you have had to quit your job, work reduced hours, or spend more on caregiving resources.
It is important to know about all of the financial resources available to you and your loved one to cover their costs of living and medical care. Some options include:
The Alzheimer's Association can connect you with low-cost or free community resources depending on your financial situation.
One final way to address and prevent burnout is taking advantage of respite care services that offer temporary relief from your caregiving duties. “One of the things to consider is building in regular respite care,” Dr. Davis said. “If you build in something routine, then it feels better.”
Don’t hesitate to ask family members, friends, or neighbors for assistance. You can also engage a professional caregiver that provides in-home care or look into day care programs for people with Alzheimer’s. Delegating tasks and responsibilities can relieve some of the burden and allow you to take breaks.
Scheduled, regular respite care allows you to take breaks or attend to personal matters while ensuring your loved one's safety and well-being. A respite care plan may look like having a professional caregiver every Wednesday morning so that you can rest, exercise, or socialize. Having this built into your schedule can reduce the guilt of constantly asking for help and can save you from burnout in the first place.
On myALZteam, the social network for people living with Alzheimer’s and their loved ones, more than 85,000 members talk about a range of personal experiences and struggles. Caregiver burnout is one of the most discussed topics.
Have you experienced burnout while caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s? What challenges have you faced? What advice do you have for others in the same position? Share your thoughts and experiences below in the comments or post to your Activities feed.