Dementia caregivers face special challenges

April 7, 2021

Written by Natalie Sutton, Executive Director, Alzheimer’s Association Greater Indiana Chapter

Caregiving can be both rewarding and stressful, no matter the underlying health condition of the care recipient. But dementia caregivers often face special challenges. According to the 2021 Alzheimer’s Association Facts and Figures report, twice as many caregivers of those with dementia indicate substantial emotional, financial and physical difficulties compared with other caregivers. And fifty-nine percent of family caregivers of people with dementia rated the emotional stress of caregiving as high or very high. These challenges have only increased during the pandemic.

Balancing your efforts to care for the person living with dementia and care for yourself can be difficult. However, the best thing you can do as a caregiver is to take care of yourself by paying attention to your physical, mental and emotional wellbeing. Here are some ways to do that:

1. Take a break.

Respite care services can give you a temporary rest from caregiving while the person with Alzheimer’s continues to receive care in a safe environment.

2. Become an educated caregiver.

As the disease progresses, new caregiving skills may be needed. The Alzheimer’s Association offers programs to help you better understand and cope with common behavioral and personality changes that often accompany Alzheimer’s. Visit alz.org/indiana/helping_you to register for virtual education programs or watch programs on demand.

3. Manage your level of stress.

Stress can cause physical problems (blurred vision, stomach upset, high blood pressure) and changes in behavior (irritability, lack of concentration, change in appetite). Relaxation techniques such as deep breathing exercises and meditation can help. So can physical activity – of any kind. If stress becomes overwhelming, seek help from a doctor or counselor.

4. Get help and find support.

If often helps to know that you are not alone. Join support groups online or by phone to connect with other caregivers. Registration is available at alz.org/crf or through the Alzheimer’s Association’s free, 24/7 Helpline at 800.272.3900. You can also call the Helpline day or night to receive immediate assistance with any question about dementia and caregiving – big or small.

5. Take care of your own health.

Try to eat well, exercise and get plenty of rest. Take time to visit your doctor for regular checkups and pay attention to any exhaustion, stress, sleeplessness or changes in your appetite or behavior. Making sure that you are healthy can help you be a better caregiver.

6. Know you’re doing your best.

Remember that the care you provide makes a difference and that you’re doing the best you can. You may feel guilty because you can’t do more, but care needs increase as Alzheimer’s progresses. Regardless of how care is delivered, you can make sure that the person living with the disease is well cared for and safe.