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Mental Health Tips When Caring for a Loved One with Dementia

Caring for a Loved One with Dementia? 5 Tips to Optimize Your Own Mental Health

If you are caring for a loved one with dementia, such as Alzheimer’s disease, first know that you are far from alone in your journey. According to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) every year over 16 million Americans spend more than 17 billion hours caring for a family member or friend with dementia.

The demands of caregiving can, however, cause an individual to neglect their own health. While putting others first is certainly an admirable trait, it opens the door to an increased risk of anxiety, depression, guilt, isolation, and other issues.

It doesn’t have to be that way. Because, as challenging as caregiving is, you should know that there are many resources available to help you navigate more successfully through the emotional twists and turns associated with caring for your loved one with dementia.

First, let’s look at some of the warning signs that your mental health might be in jeopardy. 

  • You are becoming more easily agitated and frustrated.
  • You develop feelings of guilt for resenting your role as caregiver.
  • You are not eating well or sleeping well.
  • You begin to feel helpless and hopeless.
  • You lose the sense of pleasure and interest in things you’ve always enjoyed.
  • Your family and friends notice the changes.

Any one of the above factors can contribute to caregiver “burnout”, a form of depression. If it goes untreated, it can lead to serious health issues for you and compromise the quality of care you provide for your loved one.

The good news is that there is help available if you know how and where to find it.

Start by scheduling an appointment with your doctor. Your doctor can help you by providing referrals and recommendations to get you on the road to feeling better both physically and emotionally. This is an important first step to taking control of your own health. It is something you wouldn’t hesitate to do for a loved one.

Now it is time to make your own health a priority!

The Alzheimer’s Association has published a comprehensive list from the American Psychiatric Association of steps caregivers can take to get back control over their mental wellbeing. Here are five of their key tips:

  1. Seek professional counseling. Fortunately, in today’s world the concept of seeking therapy to deal with emotional issues has become not only acceptable but very common. Your doctor may suggest that you begin seeing a therapist and/or get involved in a dementia support group. Take this advice seriously. It may be the best step you take for yourself.
  2. Accept help from family and friends. If they don’t offer, ask. When caregivers put on a happy face, often family members and friends don’t realize that support is needed. Reach out for help.
  3. Gain access to professional caregiver support. Caregivers need to take breaks regularly to re-charge, keep appointments, and take care of personal needs. This is where respite care can really help. Our Anthem Memory Care communities provide respite programs, as do many other care providers.
  4. Start a journal. Writing down your emotions can help you gain better understanding and control over what you are going through. Document your ups and downs. Write about how you feel when you’re down and jot down some of the advice and tips you’ve received from therapists and friends. Reading through your own words will help you navigate through the difficult days.
  5. Learn relaxation tactics. Yoga and meditation are popular for a good reason. Both provide a mechanism to relax the body and refocus the mind. A good instructor will help you develop the ability to calm yourself down through breathing and mindfulness exercises.

While you are taking the above steps, we also recommend that you explore some of the many online resources. There is an abundance of blogs, articles, webinars, and other online resources available to help you increase your knowledge and self-awareness as a caregiver. Here are a few to check out:

https://www.alz.org/help-support/resources

https://alzfdn.org/caregiving-resources/

https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/alzheimers-caregiving

https://www.caregiver.org/resource/caregivers-guide-understanding-dementia-behaviors/

https://www.tamcummings.com/

https://www.anthemmemorycare.com/resources

The journey of a family caregiver is a challenging one. And it is not one to be taken alone. Reaching out to family and friends and establishing professional support is essential. It will help you to regain control over your daily life while improving your mental health and wellbeing.

You can feel joy again by making your own mental health a priority. Start today!