If you are caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s, we don’t have to tell you that what you’re doing is difficult. No matter if you are a spouse, child, family member, or friend, caring for someone with Alzheimer’s can be emotionally, physically, and mentally draining.
It’s a job with no off-time that must be performed 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. We would venture to say that although it is difficult, it is also rewarding to know you have the privilege of caring for someone who has most likely cared for you at some point in your life, as well.
Whatever the stage and severity of your loved one’s disease are, the role of the Alzheimer’s caregiver is extensive. If you learn only one thing from this article, be sure it is this–you must take care of yourself in order to take care of your loved one. Caregiver burnout is a very real thing, and if you don’t focus on your own health, you’re putting yourself at risk for sickness, depression, or even injury, which puts you out of commission to care for your loved one.
Ideally, you’d follow all of these tips, but implementing just one or two could make a world of difference.
Tip #1: Make An Appointment With Yourself–And Keep It
We know that you’re probably thinking, “How could I possibly take time for myself when all I do is take care of my loved one?” Before you implement any tips to keep yourself mentally and physically healthy, make an appointment with yourself to perform self-care, just like you would schedule a doctor’s appointment. We recommend at least once a week, but maybe you need to schedule some time each day to focus on yourself.
Tip #2: Practice Relaxation Techniques
This could look different for everyone, but trying out a variety of relaxation techniques can help boost your mood, lower blood pressure, and, well, help you relax. Here are a few to try:
- Relaxation breathing: by concentrating on your breathing, the rest of your body can relax itself
- Imagery: the goal is to visualize yourself in a peaceful setting
- Meditation: focus on something such as a sound, visualization, or the breath to increase awareness of the present moment. The intent of meditation is to reduce stress, promote relaxation, and enhance personal and spiritual growth.
- Progressive Muscle Relaxation: follow recorded instructions that guide you to progressively tense and relax muscle groups one at a time from head to toe; this leads to total muscle relaxation.
Tip #3: Move Your Body
We bet you’re pretty active when it comes to taking care of your loved one, but sometimes your body needs more than your everyday movements. Of course, exercising is great for your physical health. However, to get the exercise you need, you don’t necessarily have to go to a gym or a fitness class. Walking for just 30 minutes can go a long way in boosting your serotonin levels, the hormone that helps regulate your mood, appetite, and sleeping pattern.
Tip #4: Get Outside
If you’re spending a lot of time indoors, sitting outside for just 10 minutes can help make sure your Vitamin D levels are where they should be. Being outside can also reduce blood pressure, lower heart rate, and decrease cortisol levels. Cortisol is the hormone that helps your body respond to stress, and we know that your stress levels are at an all-time high. It would benefit both you and your loved one, so make it a goal to sit outside at least once every day.
Tip #5: Prioritize Your Sleep
Just like exercise and movement, sleep is a critical factor in your ability to function at your highest capacity. Many family caregivers don’t consider the negative impact that interrupted sleep can have on their health. You may wake up many times during the night to provide care for your loved one and not think twice about it. However, doctors and researchers continue to stress that the average individual requires a minimum of seven hours of restful sleep per night to maintain health and vitality. “Restful” is the operative word here–when a person wakes up frequently to assist a patient (for example, even if they get six hours of sleep), they are not likely reaching the healthy REM level of sleep that is needed for the brain to rest and the body to recover.
Tip #6: Utilize Support Groups
Being a caregiver is not only stressful; it can also be lonely. Seek support from others who are in a similar situation. This will help you with that lonely feeling and help you know how to put one foot in front of the other. The Alzheimer’s Association is a wonderful resource that offers a 24/7 Helpline (800.272.3900), ALZConnected online community, and local support groups that are all good sources for finding comfort and reassurance.
Don’t Be Afraid To Ask For Help
If you’ve tried all of these tips and the stress of caregiving becomes overwhelming or more than you can bear, we highly recommend seeking professional help for your mental well-being. If you need more hands to help care for your loved one or to provide respite care, Interim HealthCare of Central Georgia and our compassionate caregiver team members can help. We have offices in Macon and Locust Grove to best serve you and your family.