Tips for coping with the very real phenomenon of caregiver stress

Caregivers are naturally selfless. There are more than 16 million Americans providing unpaid care for a loved one who suffers from Alzheimer’s disease or related dementia. In one year alone, these individuals put in 18.5 billion hours of care.

It can be a rewarding role. But it is also, at times, undeniably challenging and exhausting, particularly since this type of caregiving often lasts for at least four years. There are ways to help ease some of this caregiver stress while also taking care of yourself.

Planning for their needs

Caregivers take on this role because they want to ensure a loved one receives the right support and care. Planning ahead and answering key questions proactively can help provide you a little peace of mind.

For example, discussing health care and financial wishes with your loved one before their disease progresses is often beneficial. This can include the creation of a living will, as well as the designation of a health care and financial agent. If your loved one is no longer able to make these decisions themselves, guardianship or conservatorship might need to be considered.

You may also want to have a plan in place for their long-term living situation, as well as the different roles family members will take on in order to help out. By answering these questions now, you will not be left scrambling to piece together a solution at a later, more challenging time.

Don’t ignore your own well-being

Caregiver stress is not only real, but it can also negatively impact your own health. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, a caregiver of a loved one with dementia may experience more stress, anxiety and depression. They may feel constantly exhausted and withdraw from social activities. Sleeplessness, irritability and a general fogginess are also common.

Remember, you cannot pour from an empty cup. There are ways to help manage stress, even while caregiving. That includes:

  • Making relaxation techniques part of your routine
  • Exercising regularly, even if it’s just 10-15 minutes
  • Utilizing services such as respite care to give yourself a break
  • Eating well
  • Going to the doctor on a normal basis
  • Asking others for help

No matter what you do, caregiving will present some challenges. But you will find the strength to get through it. If you can take steps now to give your future self a small break, consider doing so.