Caring for Someone with Dementia? How to Care for Yourself

Being a caregiver is one of the most selfless jobs you can take on. Giving your time and energy to ensure someone else’s well being requires consideration, time, and energy.

However, many people forget that in taking care of others, they must also remember to take care of themselves. This is especially true when caring for dementia patients.

Studies have shown that dementia caregivers are 6 times more likely to develop dementia than those who do not care for someone with the disease.

On top of your own wellbeing, if you are a dementia caregiver you want to make sure you remain your healthiest self so that you can continue to care for your loved one.

Effects of Care-giving on Mental and Physical Health

The negative effects on the mental and physical health of caregivers is well documented. These selfless individuals suffer from higher levels of:

  • Stress
  • Anxiety
  • Depression

These risks are even higher when the caregiver is a woman.

And because of the initial health risks associated with caregiving, caregivers are more likely to participate in behaviours that lead to additional physical health problems. These unhealthy behaviours include:

  • Alcohol and substance abuse
  • Violence
  • Poor hygiene habits

All of these factors combined cause about 11% of caregivers to show decreased physical health resulting in ailments, such as:

  • Disability
  • Heart disease
  • Cancer
  • Diabetes
  • Arthritis
  • Acid reflux
  • Headaches
  • Obesity
  • General body aches and pains

Many of these conditions are the result of caregivers demonstrating a diminished immune response, higher levels of stress hormones, and lower antibody responses.

In knowing and understanding the health factors associated with being a caregiver, you can be proactive in taking care of yourself to ensure your own continued health and your ability to continue to help others.

Take Care of Yourself First

While it is easy to get consumed in caring for a loved one, especially one with dementia who needs help with even the most basic functions, it is important to take care of yourself first.

Money issues and watching a loved one suffer often contribute to the stress that leads to health problems with caregivers. However, it is essential to remember and execute these tips to ensure that you take care of yourself as well.

Reduce Stress

Stress can be all consuming. To be sure that you keep caregiver stress at bay, it is important that you learn the best ways to take care of your loved one. While you have the best intentions, you might not have the best methods to help in your care-giving. Knowing what to do and how to do it most effectively will help alleviate frustrations and stress involved with the day-to-day routines in care-giving.

You can learn the best caregiving techniques by talking to a healthcare professional or by joining a community support group.

Joining a community support group will also help you manage your stress by giving you an outlet and a supportive, understanding place to voice your concerns and frustrations. Having a safe place to talk about your feelings and issues is important in managing stress as a caregiver.

Set Goals and Priorities

Like with all things in life, victory is more attainable if you have a plan. That’s why setting goals and priorities as a caregiver will help you stay on track. These goals should be attainable and include aspects that include your care giving duties and your personal life.

After setting the goals, create a plan to achieve them and set regular intervals to measure your success. If you see that something is not working, make time to adjust your course of action. Doing so will help keep you from getting lost in the often overwhelming stressors and duties of caregiving. Measuring your success will provide tangible that you’re on track!

Communicate Openly and Constructively

Effective communication is essential in any healthy relationship. This is also true for caregivers. Caregivers must be able to communicate with their patient. This can be difficult if the patient is nonverbal or has extreme diminished cognitive ability. That’s why it’s important to understand the best ways to care for (and communicate with) your loved one.

In addition to being able to communicate with the patient, caregivers must be able to communicate with doctors and other healthcare professionals. You have to know how to express your concerns and ask appropriate follow-up questions. You must also be open with healthcare providers and not feel ashamed of any issues or shortcomings you feel you have in your care-giving.

If there are other family members involved, be sure to communicate with them as well. Let them know how the loved one is doing and what they can do to help.

Ask For and Accept Help

Being comfortable asking for help might be the single most important factor in maintaining your health as a caregiver. Caregivers can easily become overwhelmed and feel that the task of caring for their loved one is theirs alone. This is not the case.

Reach out to your resources. Do you have other loved ones who can help? A support group? Health care professionals? Religious community?

Let them know your issues, even if they are personal, and see how they can help.

With that, if people or organisations offer unsolicited help, don’t be afraid to take it. In caregiving, it is always better to have more help than you need, rather than not enough help.

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