Caring for an elder or a loved one with disabilities is a position many caregivers simply "find themselves" in. Often they have not made a formal decision to become a caregiver – in fact, some family caregivers may not even realize that they’re filling that role. No matter how you find yourself in the role of caregiver, it’s a commitment that impacts everyone psychologically – at times in positive ways, and at times in negative ways.
It’s the negative effects, though, that tend to take the biggest impact on a caregiver’s health and well-being. Not uncommon are feelings of guilt, financial stress, and exhaustion from lost sleep or from balancing a full-time career with caregiving duties. Some caregivers cope with the many changes and demands of caregiving with relative ease, while others are at risk of developing depression and anxiety, as well as the physical manifestations of chronic stress, such as risk of heart attack and stroke. As a caregiver, it’s vitally important that you take care of yourself first and foremost. After all, you can’t offer your best to your loved one if chronic stress and worry has taken a toll on your physical and emotional health.
We’ve put together this comprehensive guide from expert sources around the web to help you better understand caregiving and its effects on health and well-being. From important statistics and facts about the impact caregiving has on well-being to the leading contributors to caregiver stress, from effective ways to prevent burnout to coping strategies you can put to use when you begin to feel the toll of caregiving, we’ve rounded up 50 helpful tips and facts to cover every angle.
What You’ll Find in This Guide:
- Caregiving Facts: You’re Not Alone
- Contributors to Caregiver Stress and Burnout
- Recognizing the Signs of Caregiver Stress and Burnout
- Avoiding Burnout
- Coping Strategies for Caregivers
Caregiving Facts: You’re Not Alone
Caring for an aging or disabled loved one is an isolating experience for some people. They may spend less time socializing with friends and family than they once did, consumed by the duties of caregiving and wanting to be there to take care of their loved one’s every need. It’s easy for caregivers to feel as though they’re going it alone, or that the stress and other psychological impacts they experience are unusual. Here are a few important statistics to help you understand that you’re not in this alone, and your feelings and experiences are shared by many caregivers.
- More than 44 million Americans provide unpaid care to an aging or disabled loved one. “An estimated 44 million Americans age 18 and older provide unpaid assistance and support to older people and adults with disabilities who live in the community. The value of this unpaid labor force is estimated to be at least $306 billion annually, nearly double the combined costs of home health care ($43 billion) and nursing home care ($115 billion).
“Evidence shows that most caregivers are ill-prepared for their role and provide care with little or no support, yet more than one-third of caregivers continue to provide intense care to others while suffering from poor health themselves. Studies have shown that an influential factor in a caregiver’s decision to place an impaired relative in a long-term care facility is the family caregiver’s own physical health.” - Reviewed by Moira Fordyce, MD, MB, ChB, Adjunct Clinical Professor, Stanford University School of Medicine, President, California Geriatrics Society, and fellow of the American Geriatrics Society, Caregiver Health: A Population at Risk, Family Caregiver Alliance; Twitter: @CaregiverAlly
- Most caregivers experience some form of caregiver stress. “Clinical observation and early empirical research showed that assuming a caregiving role can be stressful and burdensome. Caregiving has all the features of a chronic stress experience: It creates physical and psychological strain over extended periods of time, is accompanied by high levels of unpredictability and uncontrollability, has the capacity to create secondary stress in multiple life domains such as work and family relationships, and frequently requires high levels of vigilance. Caregiving fits the formula for chronic stress so well that it is used as a model for studying the health effects of chronic stress.” - Richard Schulz, PhD and Paula R. Sherwood, PhD, RN, CNRN, Physical and Mental Health Effects of Family Caregiving, U.S. National Library of Medicine; Twitter: @NCBI
- While it’s normal to experience psychological impacts from caregiving, not all of these effects are negative. “Multiple population-based studies indicate that many family caregivers report little strain associated with providing caregiving assistance. Schulz and Beach (1999) found that 44 percent of the spouse caregivers in their sample reported ‘no strain’ in association with caregiving tasks. Using similar questions for both spouse and non-spouse caregivers, Roth and colleagues (2009) found that 33 percent of caregivers reported ‘no strain’ and 50 percent reported ‘some strain,’ while only 17 percent reported ‘a lot of strain.’ A recent survey by the National Opinion Research Center (2014) found that 83 percent of caregivers viewed it as being a positive experience. Many caregivers experience both positive experiences and some strain simultaneously (Beach et al., 2000; Harmell et al., 2012). Lawton and colleagues' (1991) two-factor model suggests that caregivers may experience both emotional distress and psychological satisfaction and growth, effects that are not incompatible.” - Mental and Physical Health Effects of Family Caregiving, American Psychological Association; Twitter: @APA
- Men and women may experience stress differently in different caregiving situations. “Our analyses revealed that for women, caring for a spouse or children was more stressful and detrimental to mental health than caring for parents or others. Similarly, for men, caring for a spouse and for children was more stressful than caring for others but did not adversely affect overall mental health.
“The findings suggest that spousal and child caregiving tend to be more rather than less stressful and detrimental to middle-aged and older caregivers’ mental health than is caregiving to most others but that gender differences need to be considered.” - Margaret J. Penning, PhD and Zheng Wu, PhD, Caregiver Stress and Mental Health: Impact of Caregiving Relationship and Gender, The Gerontologist; Twitter: @geronsociety
- The psychological impact of caregiving may also differ based on the care recipient’s mental and physical health concerns. “Differences in the stressors associated with caregiving have been identified for caring for a person with a psychological illness and caring for a person with a physical illness. Research conducted by Teri et al. (1992) demonstrated that the care of an older relative with both dementia and depression was associated with higher levels of burden compared to caregivers of a relative with a physical illness such as heart disease. A survey conducted by the National Association for Caregiving and the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP, 2004) with a large sample of over 1500 caregiving families found that when compared with caregivers of physically disabled older adults, caregivers of relatives with dementia provided more assistance and reported that providing care was more stressful, impacted more on time spent with their other family members, and had a higher rate of work related difficulties.” – Eve Jane Markey, The Impact of Caregiving on the Development of Major Depressive Disorder and Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Journal of European Psychology Students (EFPSA); Twitter: @EFPSA
Contributors to Caregiver Stress and Burnout
What contributes to stress and burnout for caregivers? Here’s a look at the most common contributing factors that can lead to feelings of stress, burnout, depression, anxiety, fatigue, and other detrimental psychological impacts.
- Placing unreasonable demands on yourself as a caregiver. “Some caregivers place unreasonable burdens upon themselves, in part because they see providing care as their exclusive responsibility. Some family members such as siblings, adult children, or the patient himself/herself may place unreasonable demands on the caregiver. These individuals also may disregard their own responsibilities and place burdens on the person identified as primary caregiver.” - Caregiving: Recognizing Burnout, Cleveland Clinic; Twitter: @ClevelandClinic
- Fear and uncertainty about the future. “If you’re in the position of caring for someone with cancer or another serious disease, you’re probably also dealing with concerns for your loved one’s future. If you’re caring for a child with special needs, there may be uncertainty as to how to proceed. Being in the position of being a caregiver usually carries some heavy responsibility and sometimes scary situations.” - Elizabeth Scott, MS, Common Causes of Caregiver Stress, Very Well; Twitter: @ElizabethScott
- Caregivers often get little “off” time. “Caregivers often get little time to themselves and few breaks. Every moment of their day is occupied in some kind of work. Some work full or part time in addition to their caregiving duties, and even their sleep time may be interrupted with the needs of the elderly or disabled person. While respite care is available, it is often economically out of reach for most caregivers, as well as far from where they live. Friends and family may help occasionally, but respite care is not regular or all that dependable.” - Fawne Hansen, Caregiver Stress: Remembering To Take Care Of Yourself, The Adrenal Fatigue Solution; Twitter: @fawnehansen
- Role reversal and changes in relationship roles. “Caregiving can change relationships. This isn’t bad. But, it can be upsetting when someone who has been a source of strength is suddenly vulnerable, or when you find yourself making decisions somebody else used to make.” - Caregiver Burnout, Help for Cancer Caregivers
- Neglecting the need for socialization. “Sometimes, the added burden of being the sole provider of emotional support and mental stimulation can result in the caregiver neglecting to nurture their self. Experiencing the effects of both isolation and having very little personal space, caregivers often fail to take the time to socialize with other people, let alone make personal alone time a priority. When these basic psychological needs are neglected, conflicted feelings result.” - Caregiver Stress: Causes, Warning Signs and How to Get Your Life Back, Kansas City Home Care
- Guilt and self-doubt. “A caregiver may feel guilty for not being able to provide better care or for not being able to pay as much attention to other areas of life.” – Caregiver Stress/Issues, GoodTherapy.org; Twitter: @Good_Therapy
- Changes in your loved one’s behavior. “In the case of dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, the caregiver may experience significant stress in dealing with the constant questions or other abnormal behavior associated with certain diseases. If a person needs significant physical care like lifting or constant physical attention, it can also become overwhelming for a person to find the stamina to keep going.” - Caregiver Stress, SageMinder.com; Twitter: @SageMinder
- Career and financial struggles. “Many caregivers adjust their work schedules, take leaves of absence, or reduce work hours as a result of care responsibilities. More than 40 percent of caregivers have an annual household income less than $50,000, yet a majority report spending their own money to take care of the care recipient; in 2007, average out-of-pocket expenses for caregivers was $5,531, representing approximately 10 percent of the caregiver's annual income. Additional costs include loss of salary and benefits, loss of promotional and training opportunities, and a reduction in retirement savings and Social Security benefits. Female caregivers who provide care for their parents are 2.5 times more likely than non-caregivers to live below the poverty level.” – Lauren G. Collins, MD, and Kristine Swartz, MD, Jefferson Medical College, Thomas Jefferson University, Caregiver Care, American Family Physician; Twitter: @AFPJournal
Recognizing the Signs of Caregiver Stress and Burnout
Caregivers can practice good self-care by learning the signs and symptoms of anxiety, depression, and burnout, and taking action to alleviate stressors when you notice possible indicators of caregiver burnout. Here are some common warning signs that may indicate caregiver burnout.
- Increased anger. “You may start yelling at your loved one more, or have difficulty controlling your temper with other people. Caregivers often become angry at their loved one because they are sacrificing their own lives to care for them. Feeling angry at family members for not helping is also common.” - 10 Signs of Caregiver Stress, AgingCare.com; Twitter: @AgingCare
- Roller-coaster emotions. “Whatever you call it — second-hand stress or the more serious caregiver burnout — the despairing mix of physical and emotional exhaustion strikes many caregivers at one time or another. As you ride the emotional rollercoaster of caregiving, you’re easily overwhelmed and angry. You can’t eat or you eat too much. You’re exhausted even after a night’s sleep. Your brain is foggy and you no longer care about the things that used to bring you joy.” - 6 Signs of Caregiver Burnout, AARP; Twitter: @AARP
- A decreased ability to concentrate. “Lack of concentration that makes it difficult to perform familiar tasks. ‘I was so busy, I forgot we had an appointment.’” - 10 Symptoms of Caregiver Stress, Alzheimer’s Association; Twitter: @alzassociation
- Changes to sleep patterns, weight loss or gain. “Anxiety/Stress – this can manifest itself through changes in sleep patterns (often an inability to sleep), changes in appetite and changes in weight (either significant weight loss or gain).” – Anne Rockingham, Anne on Caregiver Burnout, Nurse Next Door; Twitter: @NurseNextDoor
- The feeling of being pulled in many directions at once. “It feels good to be able to care for a loved one. Spending that time together can give new meaning to your relationship. However, it is also physically and emotionally demanding. Many caregivers are providing help or are ‘on call’ practically 24 hours a day. This leaves little time to spend with spouses, children, and friends, or at work. Those who work full or part time may fear that the many days and hours they must take off will put their jobs at risk. Women caregivers often are overwhelmed by so many competing demands for their time.” – Caregiver Stress, WomensHealth.gov; Twitter: @womenshealth
- Frequent feelings of worry, fatigue, and anxiety. “The stress associated with being a caregiver can have long-term negative consequences on health in the long-run. Anxiety can be very detrimental to the heart, and the sadness or stress related to being a caregiver may lead to poor sleep and diet, which can further health problems.
“In the short-term, caregivers that are feeling stressed, angry or depressed may exhibit any number of symptoms. According to the Mayo Clinic, these may include feeling overly concerned or uneasy, feeling fatigued, weight gain or irritability.
“Stress can also work in the opposite way and cause insomnia or weight loss, and can also cause physical discomfort like headaches or bodily pain. Stressed caregivers may also have feelings of apathy or even abuse alcohol and drugs.” – Jeff Dailey, Managing Caregiver Stress, Senior.com; Twitter: @SeniorOnline
- A perceived lack of empathy and understanding from friends and family members. “Research conducted at Northwestern University revealed that 'a lack of understanding and help from friends and relatives causes the most stress and the greatest threat to a caregiver’s own health and well-being.' They’re on the outside looking in, and it can be hard for them to fully understand or appreciate your situation.” – MJ Plaster, Tips for Managing Caregiver Stress, Philips Lifeline; Twitter: @Philips
They say that prevention is the best medicine, and that’s true caregivers, as well. The best way to reduce the psychological impacts of caregiving is to learn to identify stress triggers, practice positive self-care, and be proactive about giving yourself a break and taking other measures to minimize stress and other symptoms when you begin to feel the weight of caregiving. Here are some valuable tips and insights to help you avoid burnout and the other negative psychological impacts of caregiving.
- Determine your "caregiver burnout index." This quiz from Caring.com is a helpful way to determine whether you’re at risk of developing caregiver burnout (or if you’re already experiencing it). “What's your caregiver burnout index? Answer [these] 12 questions, add up your score (A = 4 points, B = 3 points, C = 2 points, D = 1 point), and learn lifesaving strategies for managing the unique stress of caregiving.” – Paula Spencer Scott, Are You Heading for Caregiver Burnout?, Caring.com; Twitter: @Caring
- Identify what you need to thrive. “Start by asking yourself the following question: ‘What do I need to thrive?’ or ‘What do I need for better health or well being?’ You might be thinking:
- A better diet
- More exercise
- Spiritual renewal
- Time to pursue intellectual or social activities
- Time with family
- Time alone
- Short term respite
- Reduced hours as a caregiver?
“Or any number of other things. Name at least one thing that you need for your health to thrive. Then write it down.” - Kathleen Allen, LCSW, C-ASWCM, Dementia and Alzheimer’s Caregivers—Three Steps to Maintaining Good Health, BrightFocus.org; Twitter: @_BrightFocus
- Learn to accept help from others. “Be prepared with a list of ways that others can help you, and let the helper choose what he or she would like to do. For instance, one person might be willing to take the person you care for on a walk a couple of times a week. Someone else might offer to pick up groceries or cook for you.” – Mayo Clinic Staff, Caregiver stress: Tips for taking care of yourself, Mayo Clinic; Twitter: @MayoClinic
- Prioritize self-care. “Eat nutritious meals. Don't give in to stress-driven urges for sweets or overindulge in alcohol. Get enough shut-eye; if you have trouble sleeping at night, try napping during the day. Schedule regular medical checkups. Find time to exercise, even if it means you have to ask someone else to provide care while you work out. If you experience symptoms of depression — extreme sadness, trouble concentrating, apathy, hopelessness, thoughts about death — talk to a medical professional.” - 10 Ways to Deal With Caregiver Stress, AARP; Twitter: @AARP
- Recognize the positive psychological impacts of caregiving. “It is important to note that caring for another person can also create positive emotional change. Aside from feeling stress, many caregivers say their role has had many positive effects on their lives. For example, caregivers report that caregiving has given them a sense of purpose. They say that their role makes them feel useful, capable and that they are making a difference in the life of a loved one.” – Caregiving, MedicineNet; Twitter: @MedicineNet
- Get enough sleep. “While sleep needs vary, most people need eight hours a day. Loss of sleep as a result of caring for a loved one can lead to serious depression. The important thing to remember is that even though you may not be able to get your loved one to rest throughout the night, you can arrange to get much needed sleep. Hiring a respite worker or engaging a friend to be with your loved one while you take a nap, finding a day care center, or scheduling a stay over with another family member for a few nights are a few ways to keep your caregiving commitment while getting the sleep you need.” - Depression and Caregiving, Family Caregiver Alliance; Twitter: @CaregiverAlly
- Establish routines for better time management. “Establish routines. Have grocery lists and lists of tasks to complete. Keep often-used items in designated places. Plan activities for the week. Make sure to schedule ‘down time,’ too.” - Coping Strategies for the Family Caregiver, My Doctor Online, The Permanente Medical Group; Twitter: @KPShare
- Keep important health information organized and accessible. Having a complete and organized record will help you better communicate with healthcare providers, provide relevant information pertinent to their care, and keep other caregivers and family members in the loop. “The single most important thing you can do to function effectively as a caregiver is to create and maintain a comprehensive file of information about the person you are caring for. There is a variety of ways to create and maintain a patient file. Some people prefer paper, some electronic, some a combination of both. You can keep this information in any form that works best for you, although most people simply put it in a binder or folder. It doesn’t have to be pretty, it just has to work for you.” - Patient File Checklist, Caregiver Action Network; Twitter: @CaregiverAction
- Eat a healthy, balanced diet and exercise regularly. “Yes, we've all heard it before, but the evidence is overwhelming: regular exercise and a good, nutritious diet do wonders for your overall health. No matter how busy you feel, you need to make time for these things and incorporate them into your daily routine. If you can leave the house, take a daily walk or go to a gym. If you can't leave your house, consider an exercise video appropriate for your fitness level. Programs that emphasize stretching, muscle toning, and relaxation are generally good for all levels of fitness. As for a healthy diet, consult with your physician or nurse practitioner for what is best for you.” - Senior Caregiver Coping Strategies, Care.com; Twitter: @CareDotCom
- Keep a journal. “Keep a journal. Talk or write about your feelings, whether they are good or bad. A regular record of events and emotions will help you recognize stress before it becomes a problem.” - Dealing with Caregiver Stress, Hospice and Palliative Care of Greensboro; Twitter: @HospiceGSO
- Get in touch with your feelings about self-care. “Many times, attitudes and beliefs form personal barriers that stand in the way of caring for yourself. Not taking care of yourself may be a lifelong pattern, with taking care of others an easier option. However, as a family caregiver you must ask yourself, ‘What good will I be to the person I care for if I become ill? If I die?’ Breaking old patterns and overcoming obstacles is not an easy proposition, but it can be done—regardless of your age or situation. The first task in removing personal barriers to self-care is to identify what is in your way. For example:
- Do you think you are being selfish if you put your needs first?
- Is it frightening to think of your own needs? What is the fear about?
- Do you have trouble asking for what you need? Do you feel inadequate if you ask for help?
- Do you feel you have to prove that you are worthy of the care recipient's affection? Do you do too much as a result?” – Taking Care of YOU: Self-Care for Family Caregivers, Family Caregiver Alliance; Twitter: @CaregiverAlly
- Continue to engage in activities you enjoy. “To maintain balance, it's important to stay active with your own interests, hobbies and social groups. Don't skip the fun events or forgo your normal faith and community activities.” - Janet Kuebler, Four Tips to Managing Caregiver Stress, Answers for Elders; Twitter: @AnswersforElder
- Stay connected with friends and family. “Try to keep yourself from being isolated from family and friends. It can be easy to completely absorb yourself into your role as caregiver increasing your stress level. Make time for social gatherings - dinner with friends, attending family events and holiday celebrations, etc.” – Carrie Soares, 8 Tips for Managing Caregiver Stress, MedicAlert Foundation; Twitter: @MedicAlert
- Seek out caregiving resources. “Caregiver services that provide detection, screening, education and referrals are very important for early intervention. They introduce caregivers to community services and resources, provide support, can help caregivers organize constantly changing priorities, remind caregivers to ask for help, and at times add a touch of humor to difficult times.” - Dave Nassaney, Managing Caregiver Stress Syndrome, Dave, The Caregiver’s Caregiver; Twitter: @DaveCaregiver
- Stay hydrated. “While it might seem extremely crude, drinking 3 liters of water every day goes a long way in infusing the agility and activeness we otherwise feel devoid of. Water is by its core nature a stress releasing and freshness infusing liquid so there’s no point of losing your mind just because you were actually thirsty.
Coping Strategies for Caregivers
Despite your best efforts, avoiding stress entirely as a family caregiver isn’t possible for most people. While you can certainly eliminate a great deal of potential psychological impacts by being proactive about self-care, there will almost certainly be times when your stress simply gets the best of you. Here are some tips for coping effectively when you’re experiencing acute stress or symptoms of burnout.
- Celebrate small victories. “If you start to feel discouraged, remind yourself that all your efforts matter. You don’t have to cure your loved one’s illness to make a difference. Don’t underestimate the importance of making your loved one feel more safe, comfortable, and loved!” – Melinda Smith, M.A. and Gina Kemp, M.A., Caregiver Stress and Burnout: Tips for Regaining Your Energy, Optimism, and Hope, HelpGuide.org; Twitter: @helpguideorg
- Find a local or online support group. “Support groups are an excellent resource for any caregiver. Being able to talk to others who are experiencing or have experienced what you are going through is a valuable support system. Support groups can be local or online. Hospice and palliative care companies generally employ counselors and are available when you need them.” – Caregiver Stress: Recognizing and Managing It, Integrity Hospice Care; Twitter: @IntegrityHospic
- Consider group or individual therapy. “Therapy can be beneficial for caregivers who have become isolated, overwhelmed, anxious, depressed, or who lack support from others. The work of caregiving requires strength and resilience, and caregivers who do not take care of themselves may experience burnout and become susceptible to mental and emotional distress as well as physical health challenges. Just over half of the caregivers who reported a decline in their health due to caregiving said the decline made it difficult for them to provide good care. Psychotherapy—which can occur in an individual session or in a group—may provide the help and motivation for caregivers to take care of themselves, meet their needs, and continue their work. Therapy can help an individual become better able to cope with grief, stress, and isolation.” – Caregiver Stress/Issues, GoodTherapy.org; Twitter: @Good_Therapy
- Don’t be afraid to share your fears, concerns, and anxiety with friends and family members. “Feelings of isolation can be alleviated by meeting with people who are in your situation and can understand your experiences. NPF has chapters throughout the country. Your local Area Agency on Aging can also recommend groups that may be helpful. If you think that friends have stopped coming to visit or that family members are not supportive in the ways you need, have the courage to speak up. They may not realize how you feel.” - Caregiver Stress, National Parkinson Foundation; Twitter: @ParkinsonDotOrg
- Identify tasks that you can delegate. “Make a list of your daily activities and tasks. See if you can delegate any of it. Maybe your spouse can make dinner twice or week. Perhaps a friend or relative can run errands or help with laundry. People often want to help—take them up on it!” - Signs of Caregiver Burnout and How to Prevent It, Vitas Healthcare; Twitter: @VITAS
- Take advantage of caregiver tools to identify triggers and proactively manage stress. “Digital tools can capture such comprehensive information about a senior’s care, assisting caregivers in identifying patterns that contribute to increase stress. For example, with the use of a real-time care tracking tool caregivers can document eating behaviors along with mood and toileting patterns. If a caregiver can see how incontinence is related to food intake, medication management or another variable, the caregiver can more effectively manage stress and devise an intervention.” - Can Caregiver Stress lead to Elder Abuse?, eCaring; Twitter: @eCaring
- Take time out daily to relax. “Take time to relax daily and learn how to regulate yourself and de-stress when you start to feel overwhelmed. As explained above, one way to do that is by really connecting with the person you’re caring for. If that isn’t possible, employ your senses to effectively relieve stress in the moment and return yourself to a balanced state.” - Caregiving Support and Help, HelpGuide.org; Twitter: @helpguideorg
- Take a deep breath and approach challenges from a new angle. “When things begin to happen too fast or when your temper gets too short, step back. Take a deep breath and maybe step outside for a breath of fresh air. Get some perspective on how to handle the challenge from another angle; figure out a new approach that won’t be as frustrating to you and your senior loved one.” – Kathy Birkett, Coping Strategies for Family Caregivers of Seniors, Senior Care Corner; Twitter: @SrCareCorner
- Practice acceptance. “When faced with the unfairness of a loved one’s illness or the burden of caregiving, there’s often a need to make sense of the situation and ask ‘Why?’ But you can spend a tremendous amount of energy dwelling on things you can’t change and for which there are no clear answers. And at the end of the day, you won’t feel any better. Try to avoid the emotional trap of feeling sorry for yourself or searching for someone to blame. Focus instead on accepting the situation and looking for ways it can help you grown as a person. As the saying goes, ‘What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger.’ Focus on the things you can control. Find the silver lining. Share your feelings with others. And avoid tunnel vision.” - Signs of Burnout, Leeza’s Care Connection; Twitter: @LeezasCareCafe
- Set realistic and achievable goals. “Often, caregivers try to make everything all right and strive for unrealistic goals and end up exhausted and frustrated. Perhaps your goal is to be sure that your patient is clean, comfortable and well fed. But accepting success at 80 percent, for example, will allow you to enjoy time you might have otherwise spent fretting about not reaching your goals. Although difficult, try to be comfortable with a less than perfectly groomed spouse or perfectly organized home.” - Coping Strategies for Alzheimer's Disease Caregivers, USF Medical Center; Twitter: @UCSFHospitals
- Don’t react. Act. “Tissue damage can cause an individual with Alzheimer’s to have outbursts of anger, suspicion, paranoia, and hallucinations. These outbursts often center on a fixation, leading to irrational accusations and fears. To maintain a positive relationship with your memory-impaired loved one when delusions and hallucinations are cause for concern, it’s important for family care givers to act instead of reacting.
“Arguing, disagreeing, even agreeing with untrue claims made by Alzheimer’s patients isn’t fair to them or you. Let your loved one know that you heard them, then redirect the conversation to another (positive) topic or activity. ‘I know you’re concerned that the neighbor will steal your things, mom. Now, let me help you get showered.’ According to Ann Marie Doetterl, a Homewatch CareGivers Pathways to Memory™ specialist, a good mantra to have is: “Don’t sweat the small stuff.” If what your loved one has said or done isn’t harmful, let it go.” - Advice for Caregivers: Alzheimer’s Coping Strategies, Family Caregiver Blog; Twitter: @hwcaregivers
- Let go of guilt and frustration, but don’t bury your emotions. “While it’s true that too much negativity can be toxic to those around you, it’s important that you have a safe outlet for those emotions. Vent to a friend, diffuse your anger through exercise, grab a pillow to punch or find a secluded place to have a good cry. You may also find some helpful tips in these emotions of caregiving resources to better manage the emotional ups and downs of caring for an aging loved one.” - 5 Ways to Keep Guilt from Stressing You Out, CaregiverStress.com; Twitter: @homeinstead
- If you feel depressed, seek help. “Caregivers are at tremendous risk for depression, yet many do not realize that they are depressed. These feelings can develop over time and will become progressively worse if not treated. Instead of hoping this condition will just go away, seek medical help; it'll make all the difference.” - Carol Heffernan, Managing Stress When Caregiving, Focus on the Family; Twitter: @FocusFamily
- Pay attention to the clues your body may be giving you. “If you consistently feel tired, are unable to sleep, have a change in appetite or feel depressed, talk to your doctor. You may find that your dedication to caregiving is causing your personal health to suffer.” - Managing Caregiver Stress, United Healthcare; Twitter: @unitedhealthhmo
- Use guided imagery to combat acute stress. “This is a way to let your thoughts move you to a relaxed state of mind. You use your imagination to build up peaceful images in your mind. For instance, you might reflect on all the details that are part of a comfortable place, like a beach or garden.” - Tips to Manage Caregiver Stress, WebMD; Twitter: @WebMD