According to the US Department of Health and Human Service’s National Institute on Aging, “Nearly 15 million Americans provide unpaid care to an older adult.” Additionally, “Caregivers who provide substantial care are more likely to have physical and emotional health problems.”
This means that while dementia and Alzheimer’s patients are receiving care, the person actually providing the attentive care isn’t always taking enough care of themselves. To be a dementia caregiver means giving a lot of yourself to the job and providing an incredibly lovely type of support for another person, but it is important to not lose yourself in the job and to remember to prioritize your well-being too.
Here are four ways to care for yourself if you are a dementia caregiver.
1. Ask for Help
When you find yourself feeling frustrated, upset, overwhelmed, or angry, it’s time to reach out and ask for some support for yourself. If there isn’t a friend or family member you can turn to, look into local services, as some provide respite care for dementia caregivers who may need to take some time off. Arrangements can be made for you to take a day, a week, and sometimes longer off so you don’t suffer burnout and are able to tend to your needs before rejoining the memory care adult for whom you provide care.
2. Eat Healthily
Eat a variety of nutrient-dense, colorful, and healthy foods. This is something that might get overlooked easily, especially as one is able to easily rationalize choosing fast food for convenience, but there is a lot of scientific evidence that supports eating a healthy, balanced diet. For individuals who need to be “on” for long periods of time, sustaining their energy through satisfying and easily digestible foods is the way to go, particularly in terms of avoiding a carbohydrate or sugar crash. Having a reusable water bottle on hand can help you notice that it’s time to drink water and stay hydrated.
3. Don’t Go It Alone
Connect with other local caregivers, and not just as a last resort once you’re starting to feel overwhelmed. Having a support group of people who can understand the challenges of your day-to-day will provide some much-needed validation and understanding. Make sure to take off time for yourself throughout the week to clear your mind, but attending a support group even just once every one to two weeks can provide insights into other ways you can care for yourself while on—and off—the job.
4. Exercise Your Body and Brain
Combining benefits for your emotional, mental, and physical health, take the opportunity to get out for some exercise or be mindful or do meditation. Keeping the blood flowing through exercise can not only keep you healthier, but it can also decrease stress and curb your stress responses. Following your breath and learning some meditative techniques can really help you whether you’re at work or recharging afterward.
People who care for others are heroes. They are strong and capable, but they also still need to take the time and space to care for themselves. If you are a dementia caregiver and the loved one in your life would like to transition into a memory care community, the Mission at Agua Fria Senior Living is a great resource to check out.