Adult woman cares for her senior mother as they work on art project together at a table.

Caring For A Loved One With Alzheimer’s: 4 Tips For Family Caregivers

If you have a loved one with Alzheimer’s disease, you already know this condition is extremely hard to deal with not only for the person themselves, but also for everyone around them. Caregiving is like a full-time, unpaid job — and one that’s incredibly emotionally draining.

June is Alzheimer’s & Brain Awareness Month, so this month, we’re partnering with The Alzheimer’s Association to remind you that you aren’t alone. While there is currently no cure for Alzheimer’s, there are strategies you can use as a caregiver to lighten the load, take care of yourself, and make your role feel at least a little easier.

Stages of Care For Alzheimer’s Disease

Before we jump into some practical advice, let’s start with the basics to make sure we understand how Alzheimer’s works. 55 million people worldwide live with this degenerative brain disease, which affects memory, thinking, and behavior. There are typically three stages of Alzheimer’s disease:

  • Early or mild
  • Middle or moderate
  • Late or severe

Initially, people may still be able to function independently, with few visible symptoms. But over time, they’ll become more forgetful, moody, and confused as the brain damage continues. Eventually, people with Alzheimer’s will likely become unable to communicate or even to physically move at all.

The Basics on Caregiving For Alzheimer’s Patients

Since Alzheimer’s can quickly become debilitating and dangerous, many people need at least some level of care. The amount of help they need to stay safe and complete daily activities will increase as they progress through the stages of the disease.

80% of people with Alzheimer’s receive care in their homes. Over 60 million Americans serve (many of them middle-aged women who also have young children, or the sandwich generation) as unpaid caregivers for people with dementia.

Caregiving tasks include not only directly helping your loved one (keeping an eye on them so they don’t wander, providing food and medication, helping with daily hygiene, etc.), but also logistical tasks, such as coordinating care with various doctors and completing any other administrative life tasks that the person with Alzheimer’s can no longer do.

Caregiving is a physically, mentally, and emotionally draining job. Common struggles among caregivers include:

  • Social isolation and loneliness
  • Physical health issues (often stress-related)
  • Financial difficulties
  • Grief as you watch your loved one deteriorating

The more of these feelings you are experiencing, the closer you might be to caregiver burnout. Stop now and assess your emotions and your mental state. How have you been feeling lately about your caregiving role, yourself, and your life overall? It’s best to be proactive and implement self-care strategies before you reach a stage of complete burnout. Here are some tips to help.

Alzheimer’s Caregiver Support Tips

1. Take Care of Yourself

If you’re spending much of your time at doctor’s appointments for your loved one with Alzheimer’s, going back to the doctor for yourself might feel like the last thing you want to do. But it’s essential to care for your own physical and mental well-being, too. Caregivers have an increased risk for having multiple chronic diseases since they often neglect their own health — whether they mean to or not.

Make sure you’re staying on top of routine check-ups for yourself, regularly seeing providers such as your primary care doctor, dentist, and eye doctor as well as any relevant specialists. The better you care for yourself, the better you’ll be able to care for somebody else.

2. Create Healthy Habits

It’s also important to implement healthy habits into your daily routine. Make sure you’re staying hydrated and eating nourishing foods. Try to exercise for about 30 minutes a day, five days a week. This helps your physical and mental health.

If you’re struggling to maintain healthy eating and exercise habits because you’re on a budget or low on time, try these tips to help:

  • Purchase a walking pad for your living room
  • Meal plan and budget for ingredients
  • Buy generic brands and look for sales
  • Climb stairs
  • Do at-home bodyweight workouts (no equipment required)
  • Eat proteins other than meat (beans, eggs, legumes)

3. Connect With Other Caregivers

Caregivers can often feel lonely because they’re tethered to the house keeping an eye on their loved one with Alzheimer’s. And it only adds to the feeling of isolation when others don’t understand how your loved one’s disease works, or what your day-to-day life looks like.

Connecting with other Alzheimer’s caregivers can be hugely beneficial because they understand firsthand what you’re going through. Look for one of The Alzheimer’s Association’s in-person support groups near you, or check out their online community and message board. There are also Facebook groups and additional online resources geared for caregiver support.

4. Ask For Help

Finally, remember that the burden of caregiving does not rest entirely on you. You are allowed to ask for help. In fact, you’re encouraged to!

This might look as simple as asking a friend to sit with your loved one the first Friday night of each month so you can go on a date with your spouse. Or, depending on your family’s needs, you could look into a meal delivery program or an adult daycare to help take some stress off of your plate.

In some cases, if you are feeling particularly burned out, it may be the right choice to seek respite care. This might last for a few days or even a few weeks. The idea is for your loved one to be in a safe environment (such as an adult daycare center) while you have time to step away, recharge, and return feeling refreshed.

You are not alone in caregiving for your loved one with Alzheimer’s. You’re surrounded by people who want to help. Taking care of your own health, connecting with others, and spreading the load will help you do a better job in providing your loved one with the best care possible.   

We’re here for you!

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