The demands of caregiving can be extremely stressful. According to the 2021 Alzheimer’s Association Facts and Figures Report, 59% of “family caregivers of people with Alzheimer’s or other dementias rated the emotional stress of caregiving as high or very high.”
That level of stress can have consequences to the wellbeing of both the caregiver and the care receiver. Stress on caregivers can lead to burnout, depression, isolation and physical health problems. On the other end, the Alzheimer’s Association report finds stress on family caregivers “is associated with increased odds of institutionalization of the person with dementia, exacerbated behavioral and psychological challenges in the person with dementia, and increased likelihood of someone with dementia being abused.”
According to the Mayo Clinic, signs of caregiver stress include feeling constantly worried, getting too much or not enough sleep, feeling sad, overwhelmed or tired often, becoming easily irritated, experiencing frequent headaches and losing interest in activities you use to enjoy.
The Mayo Clinic offers the below advice to manage caregiver stress.
- Accept help. Be prepared with a list of ways that others can help you. For example, a friend may be able to pick up your groceries or run an errand for you.
- Focus on what you are able to provide. It’s normal to feel guilty sometimes, but understand that no one is a “perfect” caregiver. Believe that you are doing the best you can and making the best decisions you can at any given time.
- Join a support group. A support group can provide validation and encouragement, as well as problem-solving strategies for difficult situations. People in support groups understand what you may be going through.
The Alzheimer’s Disease Caregiver Support Initiative (ADCSI) offers a variety of in-person and virtual support groups that provide emotional support, information, resources and a platform for caregivers to share lessons learned with other caregivers of persons with dementia.
ADCSI Project Coordinator Kristen Osterhoudt suggests that caregivers “prioritize taking care of themselves so that they can continue caring for others. Find stress-reducing activities that you enjoy. That could be going for a walk, getting your nails done, talking to a friend, reading a book or watching a funny movie. Make the time to do these activities regularly. Often caregivers will think it is selfish for them to take time for themselves and will feel guilty for doing so. In reality, this is a strategy to help reduce caregiver stress and prevent burnout.”
Additionally, the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America (AFA) recommends the following tips to help cope with stress and prevent it as much as possible.
- Mind your health. Inadequate rest, poor diet and lack of exercise can all exacerbate stress (and create other health problems as well). As best you can, prioritize getting sleep, eating right, drinking plenty of water and being active. You cannot provide quality care to a loved one if you don’t take care of yourself.
- Take things one day at a time. Resolving everything at once is both impossible and unrealistic—don’t hold yourself to that unreasonable expectation. Prioritize, set practical goals, do your best to achieve them and take things one day at a time.
- Stay in touch. There are so many ways to stay socially connected with family and friends—visits, FaceTime, phone calls, text messages and emails, just to name a few. Disconnecting from your support structure and staying bottled-up increases stress.
If you are experiencing emotional, financial or physical stress, the Alzheimer’s Disease Caregiver Support Initiative is here to help. Check out the free services listed on our website or call 1-800-388-0199 for more information.