Family caregivers often feel stressed, exhausted, anxious, sad, angry, and sometimes hostile. However, caring for a person who has Dementia does more than affect behavior.
According to psychiatrist Dr. Linda Mah and colleagues, unrelenting stress and anxiety compromises health as well as contributes to increased risk for depression and Dementia. Many of their findings are sobering. Their discovery that unrelenting anxiety and stress damages areas of the brain that regulate emotional responses, thinking, and memory, is particularly relevant. They conclude that some treatments relieving depression may aid in repairing the damage created by caregiving stresses.
But don't let Dr. Mah’s findings be another reason to cause worry in your already stress-filled life. Having risk factors does not mean you are predestined to develop Dementia. Risk factors do not cause the disease; risk factors increase the probability of (someday) having the disease.
There are many reasons why it is important for family caregivers to get relief from the months and years of doing more than their abilities, circumstances, and resources would normally withstand.
Caregivers have several options available to them in order to reduce their stress. One of them is to look closely at their own behavior. Some family caregivers feel they are the only person who can give their loved one the proper care. Usually, this is not true. Often family members and friends can step up as good substitute caregivers and will volunteer to help if the primary caregiver appears interested or receptive.
In addition to family and friends, community and faith-based organizations provide affordable respite care. Local nonprofit support groups, as well as the U.S. Administration on Aging, are examples of community resources. The Catholic Charities and Jewish Family Service are examples of faith-based, nonprofit organizations that, regardless of ethnicity or religion, can give the primary caregiver time away from his or her full-time care commitment.
Adult daycare is another possibility. Located in community senior centers, nursing homes, churches, synagogues, hospitals, and schools, adult daycare provides stimulation and companionship for seniors who need medical assistance and other kinds of supervision. Usually open during business hours, adult daycare centers give the family caregiver time to go to work, to attend to personal business, or to relax while knowing their loved one is safe.
Family caregivers use respite time in different ways. Some sleep, while others go shopping, spend time with friends, read, walk, or take time to participate in a favorite hobby or sport. Make an effort to set aside time for a daily 15- to 30-minute break for an enjoyable physical activity such as walking. Good times to grab these important moments are when your loved one is asleep, is in the doctor’s office, or when a friend or relative pays a visit
Schedule longer respite breaks for the same time each week. Plan ahead so you will know how you will spend that precious time. That way, even on a difficult day you will always have something to look forward to doing. But whatever you decide, make respite a priority before feelings of exhaustion, isolation, and resentment take over.
Janet Yagoda Shagam, Ph.D., is a freelance medical and science writer and the author of “An Unintended Journey: A Caregiver's Guide to Dementia.” Available through Amazon.
The opinions expressed by contributing authors are not necessarily the opinions of the Dementia Society, Inc. We do not endorse nor guarantee products, comments, suggestions, links, or other forms of the content contained within blog posts that have been provided to us with permission, or otherwise. Dementia Society of America does not provide medical advice. Please consult your doctor.