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About 15 million Americans serve as an Alzheimer’s caregiver, an emotionally and physically exhausting job that can also be a strain on finances. Caregivers often lose time for themselves and may find they can’t participate in their favorite sports or hobbies as much, take spontaneous trips, be gone from home too long, spend weekends away, or take vacations. Added to this is the pain and sometimes loneliness of watching someone you love become lost to the disease of Alzheimer’s. Together, these hardships can increase the risk of anxiety, depression symptoms, financial hardship, and reduced quality of life in Alzheimer’s caregivers. This is often referred to as caregiver burnout. In fact, according to Bill Couturié, director of the HBO series Caregivers, sometimes the caregiver dies before the patient, due to the hardships.
Caring for the Alzheimer’s Caregiver
Many Alzheimer’s caregivers find it difficult to ask for much needed help. They may feel uncomfortable leaving their loved one with someone else. They may be afraid no one will help if they ask, or they don’t have the money themselves to hire needed help.
The National Institute on Aging suggests the following tips if you find yourself experiencing caregiver burnout:
- Get comfortable asking friends, family, and others for help; you are not expected to do everything yourself.
- Be specific in your requests for help. Ask someone to make a meal, visit the person, take the person out for a short time, or stay with the person while you run an errand.
- Join a support group to share advice and information, and for the understanding you will receive from other caregivers. Visit the Alzheimer’s Association at http://www.alz.org/apps/findus.asp to find one in your area, or get support online at https://www.alzconnected.org/.
- Use a home health or adult day care service if you can.
- If you are not financially able to use these services, investigate local and national resources that can help you pay for help.
One of the most important things an Alzheimer’s caregiver must do is to care for him or herself. Otherwise anxiety or depression symptoms can gain a foothold and spiral into a more severe or complicated health problem. In addition to seeking help and joining a support group, it’s important to schedule time with your friends, to spend on your favorite hobby or sport, to eat healthy foods, and to exercise regularly. Investing time in yourself to look after your own health will not only make Alzheimer’s care feel less overwhelming, but it will protect your brain health and reduce your own risk of developing Alzheimer’s. Chronic stress, itself, is linked to impaired cognition.
Alzheimer’s Stages and Caregiver Burnout
As Alzheimer’s progresses, so does the caregiver’s stress level. How do you know if you’re losing your grip while caring for the person with Alzheimer’s? The Alzheimer’s Association has listed some symptoms that signal you need to seek professional help to deal with your stress:
- Social withdrawal
- Depression symptoms
- Exhaustion and excessive tiredness
- Lack of concentration
- Health problems
For some natural stress management techniques, read Ashwagandha Benefits: Ease Stress and Anxiety by 44 Percent and Breathing Exercise for Natural Stress Relief.
Websites for Caregivers
Because about 10 million people today are caring for a person with Alzheimer’s, the internet abounds with relevant websites. Below are some links to the more popular:
- Download the free guide “Caring for a Person with Alzheimer’s Disease: Your Easy-to-Use Guide from the National Institute on Aging.”
- Alzheimer’s Organization
- Help Guide
- I am an Alzheimer’s Caregiver
 2012 Alzheimer’s disease facts and figures. Alzheimer’s Association. Alzheimers Dement. 2012 Mar;8(2):131-68.
This blog was originally published in 2012 and is regularly updated.