“To care for those who once cared for us is one of the highest honors.”
As I write this month’s caregiver column I am reminded of this quote from Tia Walker, author and caregiver.
Though caregiving for someone with Alzheimer’s may be complex, it can also afford the caregiver and their loved one the opportunity to spend more time together, share stories, enjoy family dinners and more. Supporting another by providing that care, whether it be for a family member, friend or neighbor can be deeply rewarding.
But caregiving can, at times, be challenging. The Alzheimer’s Association’s 2023 Alzheimer’s Disease Facts and Figures report released in March found that dementia caregivers have higher rates of chronic conditions including stroke, heart disease, diabetes and cancer when compared with caregivers of people without dementia and non-caregivers. Nearly 60 percent of the more than 11 million Alzheimer’s caregivers reported emotional stress as a result of their role.
Another finding noted in the report was that Alzheimer’s caregivers often feel anxious. In fact, the Facts & Figures report found that the prevalence of anxiety among dementia caregivers is 44 percent, and instances of depression are higher among dementia caregivers when compared with caregivers for other conditions. Suicidal ideation is also higher in older dementia caregivers.
Caring for a loved one may expose racial disparities in dementia caregiving. Black caregivers provide more hours of care per week compared with white caregivers and Black male caregivers are 3.3 times more likely to experience financial burdens when compared with Black female and white male and female dementia caregivers.
Black, Hispanic and Asian American dementia caregivers indicate greater care demands, less outside help or formal service use and greater depression compared with White caregivers, according to the report. And discrimination is linked with depressive symptoms among Black American dementia caregivers.
I encourage our community’s caregivers who may be experiencing signs of stress to reach out to their physicians. Ignoring symptoms can cause physical and mental health to decline. As importantly, allow others to support and help; though the instinct may be to say no to offers of support and assistance it’s so important to accept an offer from someone who genuinely wants to help. An opportunity to rest and restore will, in turn, gives you a sense of well-being.
The Alzheimer’s Association offers these tips to help manage caregiver stress: Know what community resources are available. Adult day programs, in-home assistance, visiting nurses and meal delivery are just some of the services that can help you manage daily tasks.
Use relaxation techniques. There are several simple relaxation techniques that can help relieve stress. Try more than one to find which works best for you. Techniques include:
Additional things you can do to reduce stress and improve well-being include physical activity. Even 10 minutes of exercise a day can help. Take a walk. Do an activity you love, such as gardening or dancing. Find time for yourself. Consider taking advantage of respite care so you can spend time doing something you enjoy. Respite care provides caregivers with a temporary rest from caregiving, while the person with Alzheimer’s disease continues to receive care in a safe environment.
Become an educated caregiver. As the disease progresses, new caregiving skills may be necessary. The Alzheimer’s Association offers programs to help you better understand and cope with the behaviors and personality changes that often accompany Alzheimer’s. Our organization was founded by a small group of family members who wanted to support each other, through support groups and other supportive services. More than 42 years later support groups continue to be the cornerstone upon which we have built all of our other programs. Participating in a support group with others who are walking the caregiving journey provides reassurance that you are not alone.
Take care of yourself by including these activities as priorities in your life:
The Alzheimer’s Association is a worldwide voluntary health organization dedicated to Alzheimer’s care, support and research. Our mission is to lead the way to end Alzheimer’s and all other dementia — by accelerating global research, driving risk reduction and early detection, and maximizing quality care and support. Our vision is a world without Alzheimer’s and all other dementia®. Visit alz.org or call (800) 272-3900.