Caregiver Self-Care: the Key to Avoiding Burnout
Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last reviewed: June 2019 | Last updated: February 2023
If you have ever flown on an airplane, you have 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 when we bustle about, especially when we are caring for others. Caregiver self-care is the primary key to avoiding burnout through the progression of Alzheimer's.
Why is self-care so important?
Caregiving is hard, demanding work. According to the Family Caregiver Alliance, studies have shown that approximately 60 percent 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.
If you feel like you are imposing on others, remember that you need to take care of yourself, or put on your own oxygen mask, in order to be rested and recharged to take care of your loved one. Taking care of yourself will help you avoid situations like burnout or becoming too overwhelmed.
Finding the right support
A home health care services that specialize in Alzheimer's is a professional option to give you assistance, respite, and support. As could other family members, if they are nearby.2
If the stress of caregiving is interfering with daily life or feels overwhelming, a professional counselor can help you identify and manage opportunities to lighten your load. Just like you would see a doctor if you had a physical ailment, a mental health professional can help you get into a balanced headspace, necessary for caregiving and decision making.
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?" Do not be afraid to let others know what type of support would be most meaningful.
You don't have to do it all yourself. It is perfectly okay to set limits on your own energy output and obligations.
Tips for caregiver self-care
Here are some ways you can care for yourself while also caring for someone with Alzheimer's:
- Make sure you are following a healthy diet and drinking plenty of water. Nurturing your physical health is an important start of any self-care regiment.
- Join a caregiver's support group, in person or online – or both. Support groups can be a great outlet to connect with people who are having similar experiences.
- Make time to see your friends and engage with things you enjoy as regularly as possible. Prioritize time every week to things you enjoy, whether that be a weekly pottery class or Monday morning runs. This is going to be a crucial part of maintaining your sense of balance.
- Take breaks daily throughout the day. A handful of minutes to yourself throughout the day to reconnect and find a moment adds up.
- Fit regular physical activity into your schedule. Research has shown that physical exercise is good for not only you but also your loved one living with Alzheimer's as well. Exercising can help promote your energy throughout the day.
- Get enough sleep. Keeping to a routine will ensure that vital things, like sleep, do not fall by the waist side.
- Ask for help when you need it. It is definitely easier said than done, right? But recognizing your support system and knowing who you can depend on is going to be vital in balancing the role of Alzheimer's caregiving.
Resources for Alzheimer's caregivers
If you would like help or support while taking care of your loved one, but don't know where to start, talk to their doctors – either their primary care physician or their neurologist. They will likely be able to connect you to local resources in your area geared toward Alzheimer's caregivers.
You can also check out the Alzheimer's Association, and their list of various chapters throughout the states, and other resources that may be helpful.3 Social media sites, like Facebook and Instagram, can be helpful for connecting with others who are providing care to those with Alzheimer's. There are various virtual support groups that can provide a place to connect and 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.
Motivated by love
Caregiving is motivated by love and requires a lot of hard work sometimes. Asking for help or admitting you can't do it alone is totally normal. Dealing with the complexities and progression of illness can be taxing and stressful. Alzheimer's caregiving can take an emotional toll; this is why it is especially helpful to recognize your limits, set boundaries, and maintain balance.
Interested in more reading on progression and support through Alzheimer's? Check out Alzheimer's Progression: Support Through the Stages.