CAREGIVERS - THE FAMILY
Care of Family and Loved Ones
From that moment a loved one is diagnosed with dementia, life is never the same. Regardless of the length of time in which the patient has had the disease, all close family members and caregivers feel its impact.
It can be difficult to reflect on past happy times when simply getting through the day can seem overwhelming. Throughout years of disease, the need to make decisions about the care and services varies as the disease progresses, and the financial obligations associated with changing options in the patient’s living arrangements can add to the stress of family and caregivers.
That stress may be experienced both physically and mentally. Family members may feel anxiety, depression and grief, even though the patient is still living. Additionally, family members may be neglectful of their own health by not eating properly, not getting enough sleep, and not following up on their own health concerns.
Typically, as caregiving needs grow, it becomes more difficult to have any social interaction with other family and friends resulting in a sense of isolation and loneliness. Caregiving frequently includes the role of primary decision maker for the person with dementia – this in addition to the physical time-consuming requirements of providing direct care. This expanding caregiver role can become overwhelming results in high levels of caregiver stress over time. While some frustration is a normal and valid response to the duties of caregiving, an extreme amount of stress can have serious consequences for the caregiver.
Recognition of the early signs of frustration and stress is important to allow the caregiver an opportunity to obtain assistance and support. Some of the signs include developing a feeling of breathlessness, a knot in the throat, abdominal cramps, headache, over-eating, sleeplessness, anger, excessive alcohol consumption, exhaustion, and social withdrawal.
Nearly half of all caregivers of persons with dementia have reported difficulty sleeping and a fourth have reported new or worsening health problems.
A visit to the physician may be needed to discuss changes in health or new symptoms that may be troubling. Placing a call to a chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association to the “Help Line” may provide support and assistance. Attending a caregiver support group, that is both educational and supportive, may provide an outlet for sharing and learning ways to cope with difficult aspects of care. Caregivers may reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org for assistance in identifying local resources for assistance and support.
Additionally, there are methods that can be helpful in dealing with stress including:
- Try to maintain an inner calm when the signs of frustration begin to creep into the day. Removing oneself from the immediate source of stress, going into another room if possible, and spending a few moments taking a few deep breaths can help reduce this anxiety. It is better to move away from the situation even it is just for a few minutes, than to lose control. This may be a time when calling a friend or family member to talk for a few minutes may eliminate the stress.
- Some of the relaxation techniques that may be helpful throughout the day include sitting in a favorite chair in a comfortable position and take slow breaths and think about a safe restful place or a happy memory. Before returning back to the caregiving role, one should collect their thoughts about the experience that triggered the frustration and consider ways to handle the situation in the future.
Become an educated caregiver by investigating the resources in the community that may be beneficial. Many times local hospitals, senior care centers, and other community organizations offer specific training for the caregiver covering topics of providing personal care, safety measures, and activities that be useful in the caregiving responsibilities.
- Accept the changes as they occur, as individuals with dementia will require more and more care as the dementia progresses. Many of the changes may be behavioral and may be beyond a caregivers control and ability to manage. Support may be needed from a physician, family members, friends or community services of a nursing assistant to cope with the changes.
- Take care of yourself. Do not neglect a good diet, try to get exercise, get plenty of sleep, take a nap when your loved one is sleeping, don’t forget your own physical health needs.
- Ask for help when you need it from family members and friends. Do not feel guilty for asking as you are doing your best and some care requirements may be beyond your capability. Give yourself permission to have a respite time outside of the home by visiting a friend or participating in an enjoyable activity.
It may seem difficult to remember the past moments of joy with your loved one and be able to find a positive solution to each day. Many families have told of feeling happy about the strengthening of each other gained through sharing in the responsibilities of caregiving. Support groups exist that can be very helpful in reaffirming the feelings that are shared by everyone and there are professional counselors available to help at all levels of caregiver need.