October 17th, 2018 | BY: Allegra Chaney

Self Care for Caregivers

Dear Allegra,

My mom and I are the primary caregivers for my Dad, who has Alzheimer’s disease. We very much want to keep him home with us and avoid having to place him in a memory care community.

As my father’s disease progresses, my mom and I are getting more worn out. Unlike us, he seems to be able to go for days without sleeping. Because his judgment has declined, we can’t let him stay alone. One of us always has to be awake and near him.

My fear is that my mom or I will develop a health problem from the exhaustion and stress we both feel. I know we need to take better care of ourselves than we currently do. Do you have any self-care ideas for caregivers like my mom and I?

Kindly,

Ann

5 Ways Caregivers Can Protect Their Health

Dear Ann,

The struggle you described is one we hear often from family caregivers, especially those caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s. It is a disease with many unique challenges, not the least of which is safety.

Practicing health self-care as a caregiver is important. Here are a few ideas other family caregivers have found useful:

  • Stick to a healthy diet: Most of us know that well-balanced diet is the key for maintaining good health. When we are rushed and stressed, however, we often turn to comfort foods and fast food. Most are high in unhealthy fats, sodium, and calories. A poor diet can weaken the caregiver’s immune system at a time when they are most vulnerable. Try to prepare and freeze two to three weeks’ worth of healthy meals at a time so you can eat healthy even on the worst of days or utilize a home delivery meal plan. If your dad is able, ask him to help with some of the tasks of cooking and meal preparation. It can allow him to feel productive despite his disease.
  • Stay physically active: When you’re busy, it’s easy to think you are physically active. But fitness activities are different than just being busy. Types of exercise that can help you stay strong while also managing stress include walking, swimming, chair yoga, and Pilates. Your dad may be able to participate too, which could help him sleep better.
  • Enlist outside help: Family caregivers often feel obligated to care for a loved one without outside help. Caring for a loved one is a rewarding role, but also requires the caregiver to take a break. It’s the only way to stay healthy yourself. Remind yourself and your mother that if one or both of you get sick or burned out, you might not be able to keep your dad at home. Respite care for caregivers is an ideal solution. A professional caregiver can visit your home a few hours a day or week to give your dad the care he needs while you and your mom take a break.
  • Laugh often: Laughter is the best medicine, including for the caregiver. Set a goal of enjoying an afternoon or evening out with friends a few times a month. You will reap the rewards of laughter, including reduced stress hormones and higher levels of the feel-good chemical dopamine.
  • Start a journal: Journaling is a healthy way to get your thoughts, fears, and frustrations out of your head and down on paper. It can allow you to work through caregiving problems while also improving your sleep quality.

I hope this list gives you a few ideas for practicing good self-care, Ann. I’m sending good thoughts out to you and your parents!

Sincerely,

Allegra