As important as it is to provide attentive, compassionate care to loved ones with dementia and Alzheimer’s, it’s equally important for the caretaker to focus on their own health and well-being.
Burnout is a very common outcome in a caretaking situation. But what is it? Burnout is when your ongoing responsibility or situation becomes a burden. That weighty, draggy feeling comes from the exhaustion of living with constant stress with little to no letup. If you’re taking care of a loved one with a degenerative memory loss, being aware of burnout is important to keep yourself going.
According to the Alzheimer’s Disease Facts and Figures Report, 60% of caregivers with dementia admit to feeling burnout, with four out of ten experiencing clinical depression.
Being a caretaker isn’t easy. Think of the old metaphor about the airplane oxygen mask. The flight attendant always tells you to put your mask on — to take care of yourself — before helping others. Because otherwise, it’s an unnecessary sacrifice.
So, take time to take care of you. Here are some of our tips and insights.
Give yourself grace
Feeling guilt is common when you’re caring for someone who is experiencing dementia. Maybe you had a bad day with your loved one, or a long day leaves you feeling too tapped out to give them the interaction they need. You might feel frustrated, sad or angry. These emotions come with the territory — don’t bottle them up. Acknowledge them.
Assemble your support crew
Putting up a strong front can be tiring. Much like trying to hold a wall in place by yourself, things start to become uncomfortable until eventually, your muscles simply give out.
To keep yourself going, you simply must get support from others.
Friends and family: Whether you need a sympathetic ear or a little break to socialize and unwind, other people in our lives can be a huge help.
Also, think of everyone who ever said, “If I can help, let me know!” and give them something to do.
Even if they can’t take your loved one to the doctor, there are myriad other ways for them to pitch in. They can help with yardwork, make a casserole for the week or come over to get some light housework done. Getting even one weekly task off your plate can free up some of your mental load and make you feel tons better, and more supported.
Support groups: There’s nothing quite like having access to people who understand exactly what you’re going through. A great resource is the Alzheimer’s Association. Locate a group in your area, so you can start talking today. We also highly recommend the Memory Cafe sponsored by Arthur’s Senior Care which meets twice a month online.
Tap into community resources
Your library, the doctor’s office and senior groups can be rich sources of information to help you care for your loved one, pointing you to any benefits and services in your community to make your life a little easier. Look for respite services, where a trained professional can give you a break for a few hours. To make sure your bases are covered, dig in to the options from Area Agencies on Aging (AAA).
Set realistic goals
One thing we don’t always talk about is the expectations we have when we find ourselves in this newfound caretaking role. Usually, it comes with the intention to make life better for your loved one. But when things don’t get better, because your loved one has a progressing disease, it can feel a lot like failure. Conditions can and will change, and eventually, your loved one will need more support and resources. It will truly be a team effort, and there’s nothing wrong with that.
Take time out for you
Don’t let the candle burn at both ends. Think about things you enjoy doing, and make plans for them. It can be big things, like a weekend trip, or it can be the little things, like savoring a special entrée from your favorite restaurant.
Getting familiar with the signs and behaviors and causes of dementia and Alzheimer’s can help you understand what your loved one is going through, and how you can help. Keep on learning by checking out “Insights from Arthur’s,” featuring educational videos from Arthur’s Director of Development and Senior Care Consultant Deb Nygaard.