Being a caregiver for someone with Alzheimer’s is undeniably a big responsibility. As a caregiver, you are expected to be able to do everything: visit your loved one every day, pick up their medications, buy their groceries. These obligations run parallel with the responsibility you have to yourself as an adult with a job and a family of your own. As such, conflict can arise. In this article, I will discuss the most common obstacles that a caregiver can experience within themselves, as well as strategies for staying afloat through the process of caring for a loved one affected by Alzheimer’s disease.
Alzheimer’s Disease: Caregiver Depression
One of the most common problems that can arise throughout your role as a caregiver is depression. A conservative estimate states that around 20% of caregivers will experience a degree of depression, so first and foremost I urge you to understand that you are not alone if you begin to develop certain signs and symptoms. Caregiver.org lists some of the common symptoms that may indicate a development of caregiver depression:
- Changes in eating habits that result in unwanted fluctuations in weight
- Sleeping much more or less than usual and/or feeling tired all of the time
- Losing interest in hobbies and other activities or people that you once brought you happiness
- Feelings of agitation, anger, and thoughts of hopelessness, death or suicide
- Physical complications, such as headaches, pain, and digestive problems that do not respond to treatment
If you find that you are experiencing one or many of these symptoms, please reach out to your health provider to start a discussion about treatment. Remember that you will have a lot of trouble taking care of someone else if you cannot take care of yourself, so treatment – whether in the form of medication or therapy – is of utmost importance if you are going to be the best caregiver possible. Often a plan that combines antidepressant medication such as Prozac or Zoloft with ongoing therapist visits or support groups can be most effective. In addition, be sure to remind yourself that you are doing the best job that you can. Spend time doing things that you enjoy. Let your family and friends in, and let them help you. At the end of the day, the time you spend taking care of your loved one will be much more enjoyable if you attack caregiver depression head-on, should it develop in you.
Alzheimer’s Disease: Overwhelming Responsibility
Feelings of helplessness and hopelessness can easily arise from the potentially overwhelming responsibility inherent to being a caregiver. One of the most fruitful ways to ward off caregiver depression can involve understanding your responsibility and learning ways to cope when it becomes just too much.
First of all, the key to dealing with any new responsibility is to understand its magnitude in your life. From everything that I’ve written before, I would urge you to think of your care-giving role as a full-time job. Look at how you manage responsibility with your current job for successful techniques to help you as a caregiver. Organization is key, and often just writing down all of the appointments and medication schedules on a calendar can be helpful. As always, reach out to others who are close to you for help.
There are more than five million people living with Alzheimer’s disease, so be aware that there are many, many caregivers out there in situations similar to yours. One of the best ways to cope with all of the changes in your life as you take on your new role is to attend a caregiver retreat. Basically, a bunch of caregivers like yourself all go on a trip for a few days where you can engage in a host of discussion sessions and relaxing activities. If you really find yourself at the end of the rope, you should definitely look at what opportunities are available in your community for caregiver relief.
Alzheimer’s Disease: Coping With Memory Loss
Out of all of the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease, memory loss often hits the caregiver the hardest. You are taking care of your loved one day in and day out, and then one day they no longer recognize you or remember your name. They may treat you like an intruder and act resistant when you try to help them. I can’t imagine witnessing anything more difficult, but try to remember that they are sick. They have a disease that they have no control over; they are not trying to punish you or hurt you by actively losing their memory. Revisit your own memory, and think about all of the loving years you spent together with your loved one to help remind yourself when their memory loss makes you particularly upset.
Regardless of the stage of memory loss being experienced by your loved one, this principle remains true: your care still matters. Everything that you do helps your loved one, and memory loss does not change this fact. Rather, when your loved one begins to forget how to complete basic tasks, your care just means that much more. Even if they cannot show you their appreciation, even if they argue with you and show you resistance at every turn, you are acting as their memory at this point. Everything that you remember to do for them conclusively serves to keep them alive.