FAMILY CAREGIVERS: DEALING WITH FEELINGS
Caring for someone with Alzheimer's or other memory disorder can be a tremendously challenging experience for families. Yet many caregivers firmly believe it's their duty to care for older parents or spouses. Others are reluctant to seek help because they don't think anyone would be willing to lend a helping hand. Some caregivers simply don't know what kind of help to ask for.
The stress of caregiving responsibilities frequently leads serious physical, mental
and emotional problems for the caregivers. Older spouses who struggle to care for an ill
spouse and attend to their own health problems and men and women of the Sandwich
Generation — parents juggling jobs along with child and parent care — are especially at
risk for caregiver burnout and stress-related conditions. They're frequently too exhausted to enjoy the company of their older parent.
CAREGIVER STRESS: SIGNS & SYMPTOMS
Caregiver stress is especially common in people caring for relatives with memory loss or multiple health problems. Warning signs of caregiver burnout include:
- Lack of energy, fatigue, sleeplessness
- Little or no time for themselves
- Frequently feeling tense, has difficulty relaxing
- Being impatient with their relative
- Feeling hopeless, overwhelmed, depressed
- Frequent colds, flu and other ailments; neglecting their own health
- No longer taking pride in caring for their family member
Recognize any of these symptoms? If so it's important to learn new coping skills
that will help you provide your relative with the best of care, and renew your pride in
your strength and ability to do so. Contact your local Alzheimer's Association for
information about caregiver support groups and people with Alzheimers, educational
programs, helplines, care consultation and a variety of other programs, publications and services.
Some days you probably feel like you're on an emotional roller coaster. Common feelings caregivers experience are:
- Anger: Bottling up angry feelings affects your physical, mental and emotional health. Express strong feelings to an understanding friend or family member not the person you care for. He or she probably won't understand why you are angry and may become upset or frightened. Writing about your feelings or taking a brisk walk around the block are also good ways to vent your motions.
- Feeling tied down and isolated: Make taking time for yourself a priority. Call a good friend or relative or ask them to stay with your parent while you take a nap or go shopping.
- Attend a caregiver suppoti group meeting. Contact your local chapter of the Alzheimer's Association (alz.org) for information about support groups in your area. Most chapters offer a variety of programs and services for caregivers and the people they care for including newsletters, needs assessments, support groups for caregivers and people with Alzheimer's- usually at no cost.
- If you get angry at your parent you're likely to feel sad and guilty afterwards. Such feelings are normal. Forgive yourself and tell yourselfthat you're doing the best you can in a stressful situation. To avoid angry outbursts give yourself a time-out when a stressful situation occurs. Express your feelings by taking a short walk, pulling weeds in the garden, or punching a bed pillow. Wash your face and forgive yourself for getting angry.
You probably miss the person your parent was before he or she became ill. It's normal to feel sad for such loss. Share your feelings with a good friend or other another relative who may also feel the same way you do. Write down the good memories you have of him before he became ill.
SELF-CARE FOR CAREGIVERS
Go easy on yourself. Caring for someone with memory loss is physically, emotionally and mentally draining. So when a friend, neighbor or another family member offers to help you, don't hesitate to take him or her up on the offer. Have some specific things they can do for you — take a walk around the block with your parent, rake leaves, shovel snow, pick up groceries or the dry cleaning. Ask a close friend to stay with your parent while you take a nap, get your hair cut or go to the mall.
If your parent is having a bad day, remind yourself of the things your relative can still do — not what he can' t. Remind yourself that caregiving is tremendously challenging and that you are doing the best you can to make him feel safe, comfortable, secure and cared for.
As a caregiver you may have to make some important decisions about your parent's care — whether or not he should be moved to a nursing home, continue to live alone, is capable of his managing finances. Discuss the situation with friends, family members, financial or health care professionals. Ask for their advice and opinions about your parent's capabilities. Keep in mind that it is your responsibility as his caregiver to make decisions about your parent's care if he or she can no longer do so. Trust yourself to make the best choice for your relative — and don't second-guess yourself.
"LET A SMILE BE YOUR UMBRELLA"
For people with Alzheimer's and their caregivers there will be good days and notso- good days especially as the disease progresses. Some days you might be angry. If you are — be angry at the disease — not the person with the disease.
Take each day as it comes. Make the most of your parent's good days. Put the bad days behind you. Look for humor wherever you can fmd it — don't miss the comics in the newspaper.
Remember: "One good thing about Alzheimer's is you get to meet new people every day."
A version of this article appeared in the Private Health News.