Caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s disease can be both emotionally and physically draining. It might seem easier, or even necessary, to put yourself second. But, balancing your caregiver duties and caring for yourself is important to both your well-being and that of your loved one. Here are a few tips on how to balance your life as an Alzheimer’s caregiver.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), as many as 5.3 million Americans have Alzheimer’s disease, and the vast majority, 87%, are being cared for by caregivers at home.
At the average age of 48, many Alzheimer’s caregivers are also caring for their own families and working full time. Around two-thirds of Alzheimer’s caregivers report having missed work due to caregiving responsibilities. Among the many sacrifices caregivers make, the Alzheimer’s Association highlights these:
- Lost family income due to missed work, quitting work entirely or retiring early
- Less time for family and vacations
- Giving up hobbies, friends and social activities
- Failing to exercise or eat a healthy diet
Finding Balance as an Alzheimer’s Caregiver
You want to fulfill all of your duties as a caregiver, parent, spouse and sibling as best you can. So how can you balance your health needs with the other demands placed on you?
Here are seven suggestions for how you can help balance your health and wellness with your responsibilities as an Alzheimer’s caregiver:
1. Seek support.
The Alzheimer’s Association says that only about half of Alzheimer’s caregivers pursue paid help or support services. Estimates show that less than 10% of caregivers use respite services, and around 11% participate in support groups. Support groups for Alzheimer’s caregivers and other services are there to relieve some of your stress, so take advantage of them.
2. Ask family for help.
Even if you have agreed to be a primary caregiver, you are entitled to time off from your duties. Ask other family members to fill in for you on a regular basis. Or, ask relatives or friends to help prepare some meals, grocery shop or visit with you regularly. Think of other errands or tasks to delegate so that you can carve out more time for yourself during the week.
3. Exercise and eat right.
Staying physically active helps lower stress and reduces risks for serious health problems, including heart disease and diabetes. So does eating a healthy, low-fat diet. Besides, your loved one with Alzheimer’s can benefit from both of these practices too. Make healthy meals and fitness activities a regular part of your caregiving routine.
4. Educate yourself.
Take classes to advance your caregiving skills and knowledge of Alzheimer’s disease. The Alzheimer’s Association provides a list of online workshops, certification options and local training programs.
From deep breathing exercises, to yoga classes, to meditation — relaxation can lower stress, calm your mind and boost your energy.
6. Stay social.
Keep up with your favorite hobby, or try a new one. Meet with friends and plan activities outside of your caregiving routine so that you have something to look forward to each week as a break from your other responsibilities.
7. See your doctor.
Neglecting your regular check-ups can lead to serious health problems. Be sure to see your doctor for annual visits, and be aware of any signs of long-term stress and burnout, such as fatigue, weight gain, insomnia, irritability, poor concentration or inability to cope.
Realize How Much You Already Do
As an Alzheimer’s caregiver, you have the opportunity to deepen a bond with your loved one through your care and compassion.
The challenges may seem to outweigh the rewards on many days. Nevertheless, acknowledge how much you do even on the toughest days, when it seems like nothing is going right. Also, be sure to try some of the options above to help balance all those overwhelming responsibilities with your own needs and your own health.
How do you keep your life in balance as an Alzheimer’s caregiver? Share your tips in the comments below.
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