Caring for someone with dementia can be mentally draining and physically exhausting. If you are providing the bulk of care for your loved one with dementia, you’re likely experiencing these feelings.
Caregiver burnout is a common and very serious problem. It’s well documented that over time, your physical and mental health will suffer as a result of everything you’re taking on. Your situation may not be sustainable over a long period of time and could ultimately be dangerous – for you and the person you are caring for. There are many symptoms of caregiver burnout. Here are a few of the most serious.
Lack of Sleep
Often, someone who suffers from dementia has an irregular sleep cycle. This can lead to a lack of sleep and rest for the caregiver as well. You may also not be sleeping because you’re worried your loved one will wander out of the home or take a fall and hurt themselves if you’re not constantly watching them. Not getting enough sleep can affect your mood, memory and health in really surprising ways. According to Johns Hopkins researchers, sleep deprivation can lead to your own risk for dementia! Read here for more ways a lack of sleep can affect you.
When you spend the majority of time caring for others, caring for yourself takes a hit! A lack of attention to your own needs can lead to negative changes in your own health – maybe you’ve been missing regular checkups, or other important screenings like a mammogram or prostate exam. Increasing bouts of illness could signal a weakened immune system. Perhaps you aren’t spending enough time addressing your mental health. The link between mental and physical health has been well documented. Prolonged stress may lead to high blood pressure and stomach irritation. Depression can cause real physical ailments such as back pain, irritable bowel syndrome…and even make you more susceptible to strokes and certain types of cancer! If your body is telling you it is time to make some changes, please remember: there is a reason that flight attendants tell you to put on your mask first before you help others – you can’t help your loved one, unless you help yourself first.
Most often, undertaking a caregiving role is unpaid with no benefits. If you must or choose to devote yourself full-time to your loved one, you probably don’t have another paying job OR you may be working irregular hours to manage a part time job as well as your caregiving duties in order to get by. According to the AARP, caregivers spend on average 20% of their income on caregiving expenses. This includes home modifications, medications, insurance premiums, additional food and personal supplies and more. Financial stress has a costly impact on your health, relationships and more.
Let’s be honest, the difficulties of caring for someone else can make you frustrated, irritable and angry at times. This is a normal, typical emotion. Particularly if you are new to your role and have lots to learn about the disease, you may find yourself feeling extra frustrated with your loved one…are they faking this? Why are they so stubborn? Can’t they remember? First, don’t beat yourself up. What you are doing is hard. Acknowledge your feelings, forgive yourself for feeling anger and know you aren’t alone. It may be helpful to talk to a friend or therapist or to commiserate with other caregivers at a support group. These tips may help as well.
Sometimes the pivot to becoming a caregiver involves leaving socializing with friends, hobbies and relaxing behind because you feel that instead you must prioritize your caregiving tasks. Withdrawing from these things you love can cause you to become lonely and isolated. Maybe you don’t have the energy to make the effort or have just stopped caring – “What’s the point?” But it’s absolutely vital that you take time for yourself and do things that bring you joy. Whether it’s practicing yoga, going for a run, getting dinner or drinks with a friend, crafting or even just taking a drive by yourself – please prioritize yourself and your well-being. You are important too. Taking advantage of respite care may be helpful to you. Many memory care communities, including Serra Sol, offer temporary or respite stays so you can travel or simply take a break. Or seeking help from others inside your home could be an option to pursue.
Prevent caregiver burnout by seeking help!
Caregiver burnout isn’t something that happens all at once. It is normal to have good days as well as bad. But if you find yourself dangerously close to a meltdown, you feel that the future looks bleak, or you’re experiencing any of the warning signs above, seek help before you reach a breaking point. There are many tools and resources available including:
Organizations such as the Alzheimer’s Association, AARP and the Family Caregiver Alliance all offer lists of tips and resources to consider.
Check out what’s available in your local area. Other national organizations provide these services too. Look at the Alzheimer’s Association’s Resource Finder Tool and the Family Caregiver Alliance’s Support Group Information.
Getting some help inside your home may provide you some relief. The Home Care Association of America has a search function on their website and could be a good place to start.
Finally, keep in mind that people with dementia change over time and so do their needs. Make legal and financial plans now, and educate yourself so that if your loved one requires more care than you can provide on your own, you will be prepared to make transitions. And if other options are not working for you, know that trained memory care professionals are often better equipped to help those with memory loss. If memory care is something that you wish to explore, reach out to the team at Serra Sol about the services and support we may be able to provide to you!