The first step in caring for someone with Alzheimer’s is caring for yourself. After all, you can only give away something you already possess. Yet taking care of a person facing cognitive decline can tax the abilities of even the most devoted among us.
We can’t wave a magic wand and make the issues you’re facing disappear. But we can offer some tips to help you bear up, even when the burden seems unbearable. So let’s look at ways to care for yourself while you’re caring for another.
Step One: Know the Risks
No soldier goes into battle without knowing the hazards ahead of time. This is just as true for those who fight on the frontlines of human need. So let’s look at the challenges you’re likely to face during times to come:
- Irregular sleep patterns or insufficient rest. Caregivers must respond to situations as they present themselves, whether that’s in the light of day or the middle of the night.
- Missed meals or unhealthy foods. You may get so wrapped up in the other person’s needs that you forget to eat. Or you may find yourself pressed for time and eating whatever is at hand, which isn’t always the healthiest option.
- Chronic mental or physical health issues. Caregivers are at elevated risk for problems like clinical depression, according to the National Caregivers Alliance (NCA).
We mention these facts, not to discourage you, but to help you to prepare for the challenges ahead. Now let’s look at how to equip yourself for the task.
Step Two: Educate Yourself
Most people are better able to deal with challenges when they know a little about what they’re facing. So begin by learning about Alzheimer’s: its causes, its symptoms, and how it affects patients over the course of time. This will help you to marshal your resources when you need them the most.
Step Three: Ask for Help in the Right Way
By this we mean asking for help with specific duties like preparing foods, washing clothes, giving medications, and tending to the patient’s personal needs. This will help to avoid miscommunications and enable others to know how best they can support your efforts.
Do you own a dog? Pets provide comfort and companionship when you need them most. They can lift your spirits and relieve symptoms of depression and anxiety. But sometimes it’s best to let someone else handle your pup’s needs, at least on occasion. For example, letting a dog walker take your pooch for a stroll can save you from having to multitask at the worst possible time.
Step Four: Take Time Out, Even If It’s Only a Few Minutes
Taking a timeout is essential for performing any task well, according to HuffPost. So give yourself permission to step away for a while and get your head together. This will help you to help the person for whom you’re caring.
Step Five: Remember You’re Not Alone
More than 5,000,000 Americans suffer from Alzheimer’s, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. For each of those people, there’s someone else whose job is to provide the best possible care the situation allows. This means there are hundreds of thousands of people going through trials similar to yours. Many of these folks meet together, either online or in person, to offer support and a sympathetic ear. Reach out to one of these groups if you can. You may find the help you need to keep going. You might even form treasured friendships that last the rest of your life.
Being a caregiver is never easy. It will test your limits at times. But it can also reveal to you strengths and abilities you never knew you had. We wish you all the best as you travel with your loved one through the days to come.
June is the co-creator of Rise Up for Caregivers, which offers support for family members and friends who have taken on the responsibility of caring for their loved ones. She is author of the upcoming book, The Complete Guide to Caregiving: A Daily Companion for New Senior Caregivers. June can be reached at June Duncan <firstname.lastname@example.org>