If you’re caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s disease, you have one of the hardest and most stressful tasks in the world. More than 5 million Americans suffer with the effects of Alzheimer’s disease, and in most cases the family suffers right along with them. Because November is National Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness Month, we found this recent article on the website Next Avenue extremely timely and helpful. Consider this a warning to all caregivers to make sure you get the help you need when stress starts to feel overwhelming.
Written by Next Avenue Health and Caregiving Editor Emily Gurnon, the article begins with some very direct questions for caregivers. “Do you go to bed every night exhausted, and wake up with a sense of dread? Do you feel like your patience, strength and finances are stretched to the breaking point?” Gurnon adds, “It’s not uncommon for caregivers — particularly those looking after a loved one with Alzheimer’s or other dementia — to experience high levels of stress.” It’s both foolish and dangerous to overlook that stress, Gurnon warns: if you do, you’re asking for serious trouble.
The particular challenge of Alzheimer’s disease is that it’s progressive, with patients going from bad to worse, sometimes in rapid and unpredictable ways. Caregivers have to recognize the signs of their own stress and deal with them before the health of the caregiver – and consequently that of the dementia sufferer – suffer permanent damage. Fortunately the Next Avenue article lists several resources where caregivers can turn to find the support they need.
In cooperation with the Alzheimer’s Association, author Gurnon lists nine signs of caregiver stress that you must not ignore. We’ll list a few for your consideration.
One obvious warning sign of caregiver stress is exhaustion. We all get tired from time to time, but if you always feel tired even after you’ve slept, or find that exhaustion is keeping you from finishing basic daily tasks, your exhaustion may have reached a potentially damaging level.
What about anxiety? Once again, anxious times are normal for just about everyone, but if a caregiver begins to obsess over his or her ability to care for their loved on, and if each day seems to bring greater fear for the future, your anxiety may be bordering on the unhealthy, and it may be time to get someone to talk to about your situation. Another sign of caregiver stress closely linked with anxiety is depression: not only does depression rob you of your energy and deplete your sense of hope and optimism, but it also keeps you from responding to everyday caregiving challenges with the thoroughness your loved one requires.
Social withdrawal is a major warning sign of caregiver stress. We have heard from those caring for a loved one with dementia that over time the walls seem to close in and they feel increasingly isolated, without any social outlet or ability to find emotional release away from the person they’re caring for. If socializing with family and friends no longer interests you, you should be hearing warning bells.
Other problems on the list range from a change in sleeping or eating patterns to a lack of concentration to a feeling of being perpetually irritated and short-fused. Some stressed-out caregivers lapse into denial (the inability to accept your loved one’s disease) or feel unable to concentrate. And finally here’s a troubling statistic: studies have shown that Alzheimer’s caregivers over 65 who are taking care of a spouse have a much higher mortality rate than non-caregivers. “If you can’t remember the last time you felt good,” writes Next Avenue’s Gurnon, “it’s time to see a health professional.” We would add, of course, that the doctor you should seek out needs to be a geriatrician, someone far better trained to diagnose and treat the particular health issues faced by seniors.
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It’s easy to find out more. The next step is for you to take a few hours and attend one of our free LifePlanning Seminars. You’ll find information and online registration on the Upcoming Events tab, or you can call us during the week and we’ll gladly assist you. There’s no obligation whatsoever. Come to a LifePlanning Seminar near you and see if you don’t agree that LifePlanning represents a breakthrough in retirement preparation. We’ll see you soon!
(originally reported at www.nextavenue.org)