Jul 3, 2012

Who is Taking Care of the Caregiver While the Caregiver is Taking Care?

Are you a caregiver for someone with Alzheimer’s?

By Carol Blackwell
Alzheimer's Reading Room

Are you taking care of yourself? You can’t be there for them if you aren’t there for ‘you.’ Your mood and stress affects their mood. It surely isn’t easy and life is sometimes stressful and difficult. Here are some things that helped me---you can decide if they will work for you.

  • Exercise!

    I know you may be thinking you have no time to exercise because you are so busy taking care of your loved one and too tired at the end of the day. I say, that is exactly why we need to exercise.

    Exercise gives me greater energy (go figure) and lifts my mood.

    My favorite exercise is taking an African dance/aerobics class. I love the music—it is so upbeat—and I love the camaraderie of those in the class. We are all so happy to survive each session!

    Bob goes with me to the gym often and works on the machines at the gym while I take the class. If I am not going to class, we either walk, bike, work the elliptical or, if all else fails, I put on old “60’s” rock and roll and dance to that. It feels great! It helps us both to exercise.

    I recently read that those with ‘big bellies’ are more likely to get Alzheimer’s. Guess we have to try and keep our stomachs down.

  • Volunteer for service to others.

    I imagine you are now thinking I am really weird. How can we find time to work for others when we are struggling ourselves? For me, initially, I found it was easy to sit in the house and feel sorry for us. We didn’t sign up for this disease invading our lives, we had just had gotten to the point where we could be free from work constraints, etc. etc. Unfortunately, sitting in the house feeling sorry for us didn’t help much. It wasn’t fun and served no purpose except to make me crabby and Bob depressed. No one wants to be around crabby people.

    So, Bob and I got involved in Meals on Wheels and we really enjoy it. We feel good about being able to do something to help those who are homebound. The people we brought meals do helped us by just being themselves—cheerful, friendly, etc.

    When you give part of your time to others, you get back much more. We look forward to seeing our ‘friends’ every month. Everyone has problems. If we can help each other, we can all get through life in a better way.

  • Do things you enjoy—you deserve it.

    What do you find fun and what gives you pleasure? It is different for all of us. I enjoy Wii games—I love the Wii Fitness Plus activities. They are fun.

    I also find that working on genealogy is very enjoyable and try to find at least a few minutes a day to go back a little farther in history. I wonder about my ancestors’ lives. What issues did they face? I like to read. What do you look forward to? Take time to indulge yourself.
  • Consider mediation/yoga.

    Research has found that taking time to meditate and to engage in yoga is beneficial in reducing stress. I enjoy Wii yoga - which is probably not ‘real’ yoga, but is fun anyway. I like the fact the digital yoga ‘instructors’ always tell me I am ‘doing well’. I so find it calming—even when I am bent like a pretzel. I am getting pretty good at the ‘tree’ pose.

  • Don’t be a martyr.

    Martyrs may be noble, but they really aren’t much fun. You can’t do it all and you shouldn’t have to. Find help if you need it.

    Are you in a support group? Check the Alzheimer’s Association link to fine one near you. Join it—it will help to find others who are going through what you are.

    Is there someone who can come in for a few hours and let you take a break? Someone from church? A friend? There are people who would love to help us, but we don’t ask. Ask. You owe it to yourself and your loved ones!
  • Smile or laugh each day.

    Life is short—find some fun in it. We are fortunate because, with 5 grandchildren under 6, there is always some amusing story. Enjoy each day as much as you can.

  • Cut yourself some slack.

    Everyone has ‘blue’ days. It’s OK to have a ‘pity party’ once in a while. It just doesn’t help to let those days happen too frequently. Also, don’t beat yourself up. We can’t always be calm, patient, understanding and saint-like. We are all just doing the best we can. Wallowing in guilt for occasional impatience won’t help either.

  • Don’t lose hope.

    There IS a cure for this awful disease. Out there—somewhere, someone is working on it. We just don’t know it yet. It will come. Keep the faith, baby!

I read that the chance of the spouse of someone with Alzheimer’s is 6 times---6 times—more likely to develop dementia themselves.

I find this very hard to believe, but if it is true, it is doubtless due to stress. Let’s do as much as we can to ‘de-stress’ ourselves---we can all help each other.

There are 15 million caregivers in the U.S. Let’s work together. P.S. Check out the video on Alzheimer's effect on caregivers.

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Carol Blackwell lives in Northern Virginia with her husband Bob. Bob was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in 2006. Carol is a part time leadership coach and instructor. Both Carol and Bob are active advocates in the fight against Alzheimer's disease. Bob and Carol also blog on the USA Today website.

Original content Carol Blackwell, the Alzheimer's Reading Room