The thing about my Grandma being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease is that it happened slowly. I can’t pinpoint exactly when it started, but over the past five years she has transitioned from her own apartment, to an independent living facility, to assisted living. She went from not being able to recall certain words or terms to not remembering loved ones entirely. And my mother went from an attentive daughter to a full time care caregiver.
My mother is one of 65.7 million caregivers that make up 29% of the U.S. adult population providing care to someone who is ill, disabled or aged and my grandma is one of the estimated 5.2 million Americans that have Alzheimer's disease. As my grandma’s condition has deteriorated, my mother’s time and devotion has increased, which can carry a physical and emotional burden. Nearly 60 percent of Alzheimer's and dementia caregivers rate the emotional stress of caregiving as high or very high, and more than one-third report symptoms of depression.
Given this bleak reality for caregivers, it is important not to lose yourself in the care for your loved one and find a balance. As being a caregiver has taken on a larger role in my mother’s life, she has made a more concerted effort to take care of herself by using these three tips.
- Find others who are going through a similar experience and support each other. My mother is fortunate that her sister lives nearby and can also help care for their mother and they are able to share these experiences and lean on each other when times are tough. Online forums have also been a great outlet for her to tackle challenges and learn from other people’s journeys.
- Take time for yourself. By taking time to relax and reduce stress, you will feel more rejuvenated. Due to the physical and emotional burden of caregiving, Alzheimer's and dementia caregivers had $9.3 billion in additional health care costs of their own in 2013. Remember that if you do not put your own health first, you will be a less effective caregiver.
- Accept offers for help from your friends and family. Just because you know the ropes best, doesn’t mean you are the only one who can do the job. Especially when my mother was working, she was limited to how often she could visit my Grandma. Rather than burdening herself with extra trips, I was easily able to incorporate grocery shopping and checking the hearing aid batteries into my visits.
Alzheimer's disease is a progressive disease, where dementia symptoms gradually worsen over a number of years. As my grandma’s Alzheimer’s worsens, it will be even more important for my mother to lean on her support system, to rely on her family and friends, and take time for herself.