7 Mental Health Tips for Dementia/Alzheimer’s Caregivers

Mental Health Tips for Dementia

For dementia caregivers, mental health is essential. As the number of individuals experiencing dementia and Alzheimer’s continues to skyrocket, caregiver wellness is increasingly a priority.

Challenges Faced by Caregivers of Individuals with Dementia/Alzheimer’s

Dementia caregivers’ mental health is often overlooked due to the rigorous challenges of caring for individuals with dementia and Alzheimer’s. Yet, while many people think these mental declines are synonymous, they are not. Symptoms may overlap, but there are differences.

This is important for Alzheimer’s caregivers’ wellness and in coping with caregiver stress. Knowing what to expect as the cared-for individual’s condition progressively worsens will help in dementia caregivers’ mental health plans.

What Is the Difference: Dementia vs. Alzheimer’s?

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, “Dementia is a general term for a decline in mental ability severe enough to interfere with daily life, while Alzheimer’s is a specific disease.”

Dementia Symptoms

It’s essential to know that there are many different types of dementia. Also, many conditions can cause dementia. As for dementia symptoms, these are all linked to memory loss, trouble concentrating, reasoning, and other skills requiring thought and problem-solving.

Symptoms include:

  • Problems with short-term memory.
  • Losing or misplacement of a wallet, purse, or other items.
  • Difficulty paying bills.
  • Finding it challenging to prepare or plan meals.
  • Having trouble remembering medical and other appointments.
  • Experiencing confusion and difficulty traveling beyond the neighborhood and even in familiar surroundings.
  • Dementia symptoms become progressively worse. The cognitive decline is slow at the start but gradually worsens. The result is dementia. Not only does the individual with dementia have diminished cognitive capabilities, but the dementia caregiver’s mental health may be significantly affected.

Alzheimer’s Symptoms

What is Alzheimer’s? It is a neurodegenerative brain disease caused by complex changes in the brain after damage to brain cells. Alzheimer’s is irreversible and leads to dementia. More than 6 million people in the U.S. live with Alzheimer’s. According to projections, this number will increase to 13 million people by 2050.

Why is this important for Alzheimer’s caregivers’ wellness? When detected early, treatments for symptom relief for the cared-for individual can be explored. By helping them keep some independence longer, the Alzheimer’s caregiver can have more time to focus on their mental health and wellness.

Symptoms include:

  • Diminished memory and memory loss, causing daily life disruptions.
  • Experiencing changes in personality and mood.
  • Difficulty with problem-solving and planning.
  • Finding it challenging to do familiar chores and tasks.
  • Getting confused over places and time.
  • Having difficulty comprehending pictures, images, and spatial relationships.
  • Onset of difficulty speaking or writing words.
  • An inability to find their way, retrace steps, and frequently misplace items.
  • Experiencing decreased decision-making and poor judgment.
  • Avoiding social activities, hobbies, and family engagements.

How This Affects Caregivers

With the advance of Alzheimer’s disease, symptoms become significantly more severe. This dramatically affects Alzheimer’s caregivers’ wellness because they must spend more time dealing with the individual’s increasing confusion, changes in behavior, disorientation, walking, swallowing, and eating.

At this point, caring for an individual with advanced Alzheimer’s disease may become too much for one person. It may be time to encourage placement in an Alzheimer’s, memory, or dementia care facility.

Self-Care Strategies to Maintain Caregivers’ Mental Well-Being

For many dementia caregivers, mental health and well-being aren’t at the top of their to-do list. They’re too busy dealing with ongoing and increasingly challenging care responsibilities. Yet, maintaining Alzheimer’s caregivers’ wellness must be a priority for them to continue effectively and without undue mental, physical, and emotional costs.

Many self-care strategies can help cope with stress, anxiety, and burnout and improve dementia caregivers’ mental health.

Coping Mechanisms to Manage Stress, Anxiety, and Burnout

Coping with caregiver stress is a necessity. However, too many caregivers neglect self-care because they’re so involved in caregiving responsibilities. Without sufficient coping mechanisms in place, dementia caregivers’ mental health can plummet in tandem with the worsening symptoms in their cared-for individual.

If you are currently caring for someone with dementia or Alzheimer’s, you must maintain good self-care and recognize the signs of burnout, stress, and anxiety.

Consider Professional Help – Stress is a killer when left unchecked and untreated. Coping with caregiver stress may become too much for you. A mental health professional can be invaluable to help you understand and cope with stressful feelings, sadness, anger, and loss of control.

Understand and Accept Feelings – No one wants to feel loss, sadness, frustration, anger, hopelessness, and powerlessness when caring for someone with dementia or Alzheimer’s. The conflict can be confusing and overwhelming if this is a parent or family member. Yet, understanding these emotions may occur and recognizing them when they do is vital to learning how to cope.

Understanding why you choose to be a caregiver for someone with Alzheimer’s helps you retain focus and maintain a sense of purpose. Permitting yourself to feel good about today’s positive things is also good.

Avoid and Cope with Caregiver Burnout – Caregiving can seriously erode dementia caregivers’ mental health. Cope with burnout by asking for help, looking into respite care, nurturing positive relationships, maintaining good self-care, meditating, exercising, and streamlining communications to keep loved ones updated about your cared-for individual’s situation.

In addition, speak to your doctor about caregiver burnout concerns and get a therapist referral to manage stress.

Consider Stress Management Skills Training – Everyone experiences stress. Some deal with it quickly and effectively, while others struggle to manage it. Learning to overcome stressful situations is essential for dementia caregivers’ mental health.

The National Institute on Aging funded the iCare Program, a stress management skills training program that Stanford University and other organizations collaborated on. The program consists of video training that is available online. The videos teach relaxation techniques, stress management, coping with difficult behaviors, cultivating healthy habits, communication skills, engaging in pleasant activities, and more.

Continue Family Celebrations, Albeit Revised – The family must be able to continue to enjoy traditions, holidays, celebrations, and rituals. However, due to caregiver responsibilities, these will require simplification and revision. Such human connection helps individuals with dementia or Alzheimer’s, the caregiver, and other family members lower stress and stay strong.

Stay Hopeful
While it seems contradictory, it’s essential to remain hopeful. Find something to look forward to in your future, while caregiving, and after.

Family Rules and Roles May Change

Someone’s memory loss and other dementia/Alzheimer’s related symptoms create stress in the caregiver. How the family structure and dynamics are affected must be addressed, and things may change. This includes family rules and roles.

Mental Health Support for Dementia Caregivers: Building a Support Network and Accessing Resources

Mental health support for dementia caregivers is vital. Yet, finding the proper resources and building a support network is often confusing and daunting. The National Institute on Aging lists some resources to check that may prove helpful:

  • NIA Alzheimer’s and Related Dementias Education and Referral (ADEAR) Center
  • Alzheimers.gov
  • Family Caregiver Alliance
  • National Alliance for Caregiving
  • National Respite Locator Service
  • AARP Caregiver Life Balance
  • iCare — online training and information for Alzheimer’s caregivers’ wellness

Caregiver Self-Care is Important to Provide Effective Support to Loved Ones with Dementia/Alzheimer’s

Alzheimer’s caregivers’ wellness often gets overlooked in the continual caring for loved ones with dementia or Alzheimer’s. When you are preoccupied with day-to-day responsibilities so crucial to a loved one with Alzheimer’s or dementia, you may forget or neglect to take care of yourself. However, being healthy physically and mentally is essential to your ability to be a good caretaker and good to yourself.

Tips for Good Self-Care

Set aside time each day to do something to nourish and nurture your body, mind, and soul. It doesn’t take much, but the rewards are well worth the time you spend on self-care.

  • Enjoy hobbies, pastimes, and pursuits as often as you can.
  • Be sure to ask others for help when you need it. They know that coping with caregiver stress is hard on you and will likely gladly help.
  • Break up your day by taking brief rests. Enjoy a soothing cup of tea, a relaxing lunch, a 5-minute mini-meditation, or whatever works.
  • Be mindful of your eating. Eat regular, healthy meals to keep up your energy and mood.
  • Participate in a support group specifically for dementia caregivers’ mental health.
  • Enjoy time with your friends.
  • Make time for exercise. Take a 20-minute walk in the sunshine. Walk in place, use light weights, and climb stairs. Exercise releases endorphins, helping boost mood.