Alzheimer’s is a serious degenerative illness that impacts some 5.8 million Americans. People living with this disease ultimately end up unable to take care of themselves and, toward the end of the ailment’s progression, require constant oversight. If you are a caregiver for an Alzheimer’s patient, you may take on this task.
The day-to-day duties of a caregiver are comprehensive and may involve helping the person with everything from bathing to preparing meals. It’s a big job. If you don’t take care of yourself, you run the risk of experiencing caregiver burnout; symptoms can include depression, exhaustion, and lack of energy. To avoid this scenario, we recommend following the following self-care tips.
Make Sure You Are Getting Sufficient Sleep
Sleep is your opportunity to recharge your mind and body. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend that adults get a minimum of seven hours of sleep every night. As a caretaker, however, you may have to interrupt your sleep to administer medication or generally check on your loved one. This can make it impossible to get the rest you need.
One solution is to hire temporary care. Even if you can’t afford a full-time live-in caregiver (or simply prefer to care for your loved one directly) this short-term solution can provide some relief. Known as respite care, this service keeps the patient safe while giving the regular caregiver a night of uninterrupted sleep, which can go a long way in combating stress.
Pay Attention to Your Diet
When you are constantly focused on your loved one’s needs, it’s easy to neglect your own. Your diet is one area that might suffer, as it’s simpler and less time-consuming to grab takeout fast food instead of preparing something for yourself. If you have trouble eating healthy, try a meal prep service like Hello Fresh. They bring groceries to your door and you just need 30 minutes to create a nutritious dish; you don’t even have to go to the store
Even if you pay attention to your diet, you may have trouble getting the right balance of nutrients and minerals you need. Nearly 90 percent of Americans don’t get the nutrients they require from food alone. A multivitamin is a quick and easy solution; in addition to addressing gaps in your diet, the right formula can boost energy levels and promote gut health, which has further been shown to combat mental illness like depression.
Use Exercise as an Excuse to Get Social
Exercise is another great way to boost feel-good endorphins and promote an optimistic and happy outlook. What’s more, exercise also encourages you to get out of the house and to socialize with others, which can be a necessary balance to caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s. Exercise also promotes your health in other ways, enhancing cardiovascular well-being and circulation, as well as increasing muscle tone and flexibility.
To get started, look for group exercise classes at your local gym. Doing so will allow you to simultaneously connect with other people while also getting your heart pumping. From running groups to HIIT and CrossFit, there are many types of group workouts available. An added bonus: Research shows that people enjoy more effective and longer exercise sessions when they are being motivated by others.
Seek Out Mental Health Support If Needed
Even if you do take the above steps to care for yourself, you may find you are struggling with depression or anxiety. This is not uncommon for caregivers and it’s certainly nothing to be ashamed of. Don’t push your feelings to the side, however. The sooner you acknowledge that you need professional help, the sooner you can go back to living a happy life. This will be better for both you and the loved one you care for.
Finding the time for traditional therapy can be tricky if you are needed at home, however. You can look to alternative platforms like Better Help instead. Online mental health counseling allows you to connect with a licensed therapist when and where you want; in fact, you can write, chat, or even video call your therapist. The added flexibility can be convenient for balancing your caregiver duties.
Indulge in a Self-Care Treat Like a Spa Day
All the practical tips for maintaining your mental and physical health aside, sometimes self-care is simply a matter of setting aside a little time and pampering yourself. Take a few moments to consider what extra treat you don’t normally allow yourself the time, energy, or money for — and then treat yourself to that thing. This doesn’t have to be expensive; it could be simply enjoying a hot bubble bath and doing a face mask, for example, or curling up with that book you’ve been meaning to finish reading for months now.
Not sure what to do? There is plenty of inspiration to be found online. You could get a relaxing massage, buy yourself a fancy coffee at your local coffee shop, or simply take the time to cook your favorite meal. Regardless of what you choose, the point is to find something that feels like an indulgence and to savor the experience to the fullest. Introduce an element of mindfulness to the moment by focusing on the present: Go through each of the five senses and acknowledge your feelings as you indulge.
Take Time for Yourself When You Need It
Ultimately, the most important thing as a caregiver is to simply allow some time to focus solely on you. This is what self-care is essentially all about. While it seems counterintuitive, investing in your own well-being will keep you fit emotionally and physically, and allow you to serve as an even better caregiver for your loved one. All of these tips are simply addressing this one point: You need to take care of your own needs if you are to be able to provide for somebody else’s. Adopt the tips outlined above and you will find that you have more energy and feel more optimistic than before. In the long run, this will also prevent caregiver burnout and keep you in the shape needed to provide the best quality care possible.
Guest post by Lydia Chan
“Alzheimer’s caregivers are heroes.”