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Protecting Your Health as a Caregiver to a Loved One with Dementia

The demands of Alzheimer’s caregiving can be taxing on your health, so accepting help to get rest and relief is vital.

A home care aide helps a patient.

When you care for an older adult with dementia, health is a top priority. Too often, however, that means your loved one’s health rather than your own. Devoting yourself to providing the best possible care can leave little in your tank for self-care. It can be especially tricky to fit in “me time” when you have a full-time job, community commitments and other family members you need and want to spend with.

When you neglect your physical and emotional needs, serious health consequences can result. Yet, given the stresses of caring for someone with dementia, the situation is all too common. Caregivers to people living with Alzheimer’s are nearly twice as likely as caregivers of other older adults to say that their health has declined as a result of these responsibilities, according to a report by the National Alliance for Caregiving, in partnership with the Alzheimer’s Association. Factors can include emotional stress, physical strain, financial struggles and feelings of isolation. Without supportive services at all stages of a loved one’s illness, caregivers risk their resilience and stamina wearing down, which can lead to poor health outcomes, one study found. This can make it harder to bounce back with each new set of caregiving responsibilities and circumstances.

When you’re committed to your family and want to follow through on commitments you have made to their care, it can be hard to imagine asking for help. But  having a strong social support network and prioritizing respite time are of major importance to your wellness as a caregiver. To make time for yourself, accepting help is key—from letting friends and family pitch in to hiring home care services.

Fortunately, there are a few ways to give yourself the gift of respite in order to protect your health. When you ask for assistance, you’re more able to honor your commitment to caring for your loved one.

· Ask for relief. When you reach out to family members or friends for help, they may be happy to pick up chores or sit with your loved one while you take regular breaks. Maybe you want to unwind with yoga or a podcast, a walk in nature or simply by sitting in a park. You could meet up with a friend for a nutritious smoothie, an exercise class or a chat.

· Find a support group or therapist. It can be enormously helpful to meet with people who are going through a similar situation. Joining a support group, whether it’s in-person or online, can allow you to freely express your feelings without fear of being judged. If you feel you need more personalized attention, make an appointment to see a therapist.

· Look into adult daycare. These programs offer a safe setting in which your loved can socialize a bit, while you take a breather or get other important things done.

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· Consider a home care service. This is an excellent option, whether you feel your loved one needs more specialized care than you can provide, or you simply need someone else to relieve you. It’s natural to be uneasy at first about having someone you don’t know take over certain chores or occupy your loved one with conversation. But home care workers are trained to work with people who have Alzheimer’s and dementia, and together you may find that you make a great team!

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