How to Manage Stress: 10 Ways to Be a Healthier Alzheimer's Caregiver

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Are you so overwhelmed by taking care of someone else that you have neglected your own physical, mental and emotional well-being?  If you find yourself without the time to take care of your own needs, you may be putting yourself and your health at risk.

  1. Understand what's going on as early as possible. Symptoms of Alzheimer's may appear gradually. It can be easy to explain away changing or unusual behavior when a loved one seems physically healthy. Instead, consult a doctor when you see changes in memory, mood or behavior. Don't delay; some symptoms are treatable.
  2. Know what community resources are available. Contact your local Alzheimer's Association office. The staff can help you find Alzheimer care resources in your community. Adult day programs, in-home assistance, visiting nurses and meal delivery are just some of the services that can help you manage daily tasks.
  3. 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.
  4. Get help. Trying to do everything by yourself will leave you exhausted. Seek the support of family, friends and community resources. Tell others exactly what they can do to help. The Alzheimer's Association 24/7 Helpline, online message boards and local support groups are good sources of comfort and reassurance. If stress becomes overwhelming, seek professional help.
  5. Take care of yourself. Watch your diet, exercise and get plenty of rest. Making sure that you stay healthy will help you be a better caregiver.
  6. Manage your level of stress. Stress can cause physical problems (blurred vision, stomach irritation, high blood pressure) and changes in behavior (irritability, lack of concentration, change in appetite). Note your symptoms. Use relaxation techniques that work for you, and talk to your doctor.
  7. Accept changes as they occur. People with Alzheimer's change and so do their needs. They may require care beyond what you can provide on your own. Becoming aware of community resources – from home care services to residential care – should make the transition easier. So will the support and assistance of those around you.
  8. Make legal and financial plans. Plan ahead. Consult a professional to discuss legal and financial issues including advance directives, wills, estate planning, housing issues and long- term care planning. Involve the person with Alzheimer's and family members whenever possible.
  9. Give yourself credit, not guilt. Know that the care you provide does make a difference and you are doing the best you can. You may feel guilty because you can't do more, but individual care needs change as Alzheimer's progresses. You can't promise how care will be delivered, but you can make sure that the person with Alzheimer's is well cared for and safe.
  10. Visit your doctor regularly. Take time to get regular checkups, and be aware of what your body is telling you. Pay attention to any exhaustion, stress, sleeplessness or changes in appetite or behavior. Ignoring symptoms can cause your physical and mental health to decline.

For additional support, resources, and workshops, contact the Alzheimer's Association's 24/7 Helpline at 800-272-3900 or visit www.alzwa.org.

King County Caregiver Support Network

You are not alone! The Alzheimer's Association and nine other organizations comprise the King County Caregiver Support Network, which helps unpaid caregivers age 18 and older manage their stress so they can help care receivers remain at home and independent. Most services are free. For more information, visit www.kccaregiver.org.