Caregivers of dementia patients have an extraordinarily difficult task. Make sure you take care of yourself when take care of others.
While many people work in the assisted living field, there are about 4,150,000 people who take care of family members without being paid. The 4,150,000 figure is based on this estimate by The New York Times that 5 million Americans have dementia and this estimate by the Stanford Medicine News Center that 83 percent of dementia patients’ caregivers are unpaid family members. The other caregivers are dedicated professionals who sometimes work in patients’ homes and sometimes work in assisted living, senior living, and memory care homes. The total number of caregivers is probably more than 5 million because many patients need more than one caregiver.
Many of these caregivers are so dedicated that they often neglect their own personal lives and health to help dementia patients. That’s a big mistake, according to medical researchers. The Family Caregiver Alliance reports that caregiving spouses who are senior citizens and “are experiencing mental or emotional strain” — a category that surely must include a very large percentage of caregivers — are 63 percent more likely to die than seniors who aren’t caregivers.
One of the best ways, in fact, for caregivers to improve their care of dementia patients is to do a better job of taking care of THEMSELVES. This NorthJersey.com headline says it all — “Caregivers for loved ones with Alzheimer’s must first take care of themselves.”
Here are 10 tips for those taking care of dementia patients:
1. Attend Support Groups: Caregivers can be boosted mentally and psychologically when they share their experiences with other caregivers. They can also receive practical tips for providing better care for their patients.
2. Ask Family Members For Help: Family members who aren’t trained as caregivers might not be able to provide help for an extended period of time, but why not ask them to sub for you for an hour or two per day?
3. Seek Governmental Assistance: Some governments have employees who will help employees take care of their patients. The NorthJersey.com article mentions a program in Passaic County called CARES — Caregivers Assistance Relief Education Support.
4. Seek Community’s Assistance: Local community organizations and religious institutions could also have people who are willing to help caregivers. The NorthJersey.com article mentions a group called Friendly Visitors that consists of volunteers who will “chat with patients” for an hour or two while the caregiver takes time off.
5. Communicate With Other Caregivers: “Caring for someone with Alzheimer’s can make you feel alone,” one caregiver told the Alzheimer’s Association after she began communicating with others online working in assisted living. “Now, I’ve found others like me.” Here is a website with links to caregivers’ forums.
6. Try To Reduce Tax Bill: Financial issues can make any stressful situation worse. Reducing your tax bill is an option caregivers should look at. Ask a tax professional whether your situation will allow you to claim the patient as a dependent or whether you can get a tax deduction for money spent on medical care.
7. Get Medical Exams: The Alzheimer’s Association recommends making sure that you are healthy enough to be the best caregiver you can be by getting a medical examination at least once a year.
8. Exercise Regularly: It’s, of course, better to do this when you have a substitute temporarily monitoring your patient, but you can exercise indoors even when can’t take a long walk. How about an exercise bike? Or calisthenics while music is playing?
9. Learn Relaxation Techniques: Formal relaxation techniques can reduce anyone’s stress level. This Alzheimer’s Association report recommends visualization, meditation, breathing exercises, and progressive muscle relaxation.
10. Do Fewer Tasks: Do caregivers really need to prepare all of the patients’ meals? Perhaps, they can ask friends to cook meals or shop for the patient. Perhaps, friends can also make medical appointments for the patient and make sure they get the right medicine. The Family Caregiver Alliance even recommends that caregivers ask others to help with tasks like bathing.
How much time and effort will it take to try these tips? It might take a lot of time and effort, but the investment could yield huge dividends for your physical and mental health — and the physical and mental health of the patients and loved ones you are taking care of.