Guest Blog: The Importance of Self Care for Alzheimer's Caregivers

By Lydia Chan

Caring for a loved one with Alzheimer's disease is a big job. Depending on how advanced their illness is, the patient may depend on you for everything from feeding to mobility and medication management. When all your energy is focused on supporting their well-being, it's easy to neglect your own health and happiness. Unfortunately, this can leave you feeling completely drained and devoid of energy.

So-called caregiver burnout is a real issue that shouldn't be ignored. This is a state of physical, mental, and emotional exhaustion that can result in poor sleep patterns, frequent illness, feelings of irritability and hopelessness, and withdrawal from family and friends. November is National Alzheimer's Awareness Month and National Family Caregivers Month. In honor of the occasion, take the time to implement the below tips for avoiding burnout.


Don’t Ignore Your Own Diet and Exercise Needs

Diet plays a central role in both physical and mental health. For example, gut health has been directly linked to mental well-being, with a lack of certain bacteria in the intestines correlating to a higher risk of depression. Eat an adequate mix of fresh fruits and vegetables, lean proteins, and dairy products. Even with healthy food, you may lack essential vitamins and minerals (in fact, most Americans don't get the nutrients they need from food alone). If this is the case, take a multivitamin to fill the gaps and up your energy.

Exercise is likewise essential in supporting a well-functioning body and brain. Breaking a sweat spurs your body’s nervous system to produce endorphins, which are chemicals that act as a natural pain reliever and boost your mood. You don’t need to work out for hours to reap the rewards. According to Self, it only takes 20 minutes of activity daily to feel the positive effect that comes with endorphin production.


Give Yourself Time Off to Simply Relax

Spending all of your time and energy on caregiving can be draining. Schedule short breaks for yourself every day; even just 10 minutes of meditation can calm your mind. You don’t have to meditate but do engage in some sort of soothing activity you enjoy. It could be a bubble bath, reading a book, doing some gardening, or simply cooking yourself a nice meal.

In some cases, you may feel the need for a longer break. If your loved one requires constant supervision, consider respite care. This is a service you can hire temporarily: A skilled nurse steps in and watches over your loved one, giving you time off. You can even schedule such care overnight, allowing yourself an uninterrupted night's sleep. When hiring a provider, schedule an in-person interview, ask for references, and conduct a background check. With this done, you can be confident your loved one will get top-quality care.


Seek Out Mental Health Assistance When You Need It

Even if you are taking care of yourself physically, being a full-time caregiver can get overwhelming. Whenever possible, schedule social time with family or friends who can lend an understanding ear. Socializing is also good for your mental health. Additionally, you can look into local support groups for caregivers. This gives you an opportunity to talk to people who literally are in your exact situation. 

If you feel you are in need of more dedicated or intensive emotional assistance, don’t hesitate to reach out to a mental health professional. Thanks to modern platforms like BetterHelp, you can even connect with certified therapists and counselors online. The rates are cheaper than face-to-face meetings and you can enjoy more flexibility in terms of when and how you connect with your counselor (for instance via video chat or text message).

 Whatever you do, don’t neglect your own well-being. Focusing on your own needs might seem counterintuitive when you are striving to be a great caregiver for someone else. In fact, by taking the time to care for yourself, you will ensure that you are physically and mentally able to offer the best quality of care possible. 


Photo Credit: Unsplash

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