Taking Care of the Caregiver: Tips To Prevent Caregiver Burnout
If you’ve ever flown on an airplane, you’ve heard the airline staff tell you that in the event of an emergency, remember to place your own oxygen mask on first, before assisting others. This is good advice that can be applied to the rest of life, as well. It can be easy to neglect ourselves while we bustle about, especially if what we’re doing is caring for someone else.
Why self care is important
Caregiving is hard, demanding work. According to the Family Caregiver Alliance, studies have shown that approximately 60% of caregivers show signs of clinical depression, and caregivers take more prescription medications than their age-related peers.1 It can be hard to ask for help with caregiving, especially if you feel like you should be able to handle it yourself, or if you feel like you’re imposing on others or “failing” if you ask for assistance. Remember that you need to take care of yourself (put on your own oxygen mask, so to speak), in order to be rested and recharged to take care of your loved one, and not burn out or become overwhelmed.
It's okay to ask for help
A home health care service that specializes in those with Alzheimer’s could be an option to give you some assistance or respite, as could other family members, if they’re nearby.2 If the stress of caregiving is interfering with daily life or feels overwhelming, a professional counselor can help you manage your emotions and stressors. Just like you’d see a doctor if you had a physical ailment, a mental health professional can help you if you’re having some trouble emotionally.
Many people, when they hear about someone dealing with a chronic condition, say “What can I do to help,” or “Can I help at all?” Don’t be afraid to let others know what you need. If you need some things picked up at the grocery store or if you need to run an errand, let that person know how they can help. You don’t have to do it all yourself. People like to be helpful – let them. The same sentiment goes the other way, as well. If you find yourself being asked for too many things outside of caregiving, like hosting family gatherings or something like that, it’s perfectly okay to set limits on your own energy output and outside obligations.
Tips for self-care
Here are some other ways you can care for yourself while also caring for someone with Alzheimer’s:
- Make sure you’re eating a healthy diet and drinking plenty of water
- Join a caregiver’s support group, in person or online – or both (ask the doctor of your loved one about any support groups she might know about, or search online)
- Make time to see your friends
- Take breaks daily throughout the day
- Try to fit regular exercise into your schedule
- Get enough sleep
- Utilize faith-based supports, if that's meaningful to you (i.e talking with clergy, prayer, etc)
- Ask for help when you need it
Resources for Alzheimer's caregivers
If you’d like some help or support while taking care of your loved one, but aren’t sure where to start, talk to their doctors – both their primary care physician and their neurologist. They will likely be able to tell you about local resources in your area geared toward caregivers and Alzheimer’s support groups. You can also check out the Alzheimer’s Association, which lists various chapters of the organization and other resources that may be helpful.3 Social media sites like Facebook and Instagram can be helpful for finding others who are providing care for those with Alzheimer’s, and there are various virtual support groups that can provide a place to socialize online, vent, or ask questions. There are multiple articles from the National Institute on Aging that are caregiver-focused and provide ways to cope and take care of oneself. Another good site to check out the Alzheimer’s Association site, which includes multiple sub-pages, depending on your situation and what you might be looking for.
Remember, caregiving is hard work. Asking for help or admitting you can’t do it alone is nothing to be ashamed of. Dealing with the ins and outs of this illness can be taxing and stressful, and take an emotional toll – on anyone, not just a caregiver. This is why it’s especially helpful to recognize when you need a break, assistance, or some time focusing on your own needs.