Caregivers of those with Alzheimer’s disease, dementia or other memory impairment face huge health risks. It’s likely that if you are a caregiver, you’ve heard this before, but WAIT! Before you stop reading, please remember that your health is too important to risk.
I want to get your attention by reminding you that as a caregiver your own mortality and life expectancy is at a greater risk than your loved ones. This isn’t necessarily because you don’t try to take good care of yourself. It’s often because caregivers devote so much time and energy caring for their loved one and their own family, that they simply run out of time to focus on their own needs.
This, coupled with managing the huge toll that stress takes as the disease progresses on your physical and emotional well-being, is not something to be ignored. Remember that study after study has shown that it is irrelevant how old you are, what race you are, or what your socioeconomic status is – you can expect a drastically shortened life expectancy if the stress of caring for your one is not managed.
So what can you do about it? How can you figure out how to manage your own health and stress and still manage to care for your family and your loved one?
First, reach out for help. I know that for some of us this isn’t an easy thing to do. But I promise you, you need to do it. If you live in Palm Beach, Broward, Martin, St. Lucie, Indian River or Okeechobee counties in South Florida, call the Alzheimer’s Care Resource Center, a not-for-profit organization that provides a host of programs and services just for Alzheimer’s caregivers, at 877-760-9199. They offer a free Coaching for Caregivers session that you can arrange right away. If you live outside of South Florida, visit your local Alzheimer’s Association’s website or call them directly. They can help you find similar resources in your area.
Second, try to make time between now and the time you meet with a care manager or other professional who will help you create a plan that will actually work for you, to carve out some time each day to take a walk or get some sort of exercise. This is so important to your health and to reduce your stress.
Third, you must sleep. Not in bursts. But a solid 6-8 hours per night. If your loved one is up all night and you are helping them, you will never get the sleep you need to stay healthy and be an effective caregiver during the day. Consider asking other family members to give you time to sleep by providing you with respite relief. Or contact a nurse registry to help you find affordable private duty care.
In South Florida we recommend ElderCare at Home. Some of their referred caregivers who specialize in Alzheimer’s disease, charge as little as $13.50 per hour. You can reach them at 888-285-0963. Outside of South Florida, call your local Area Agency on Aging for referrals to affordable home care providers.
Fourth, you must eat right. Even if this is easier said than done, you can try throwing some vegetables and meat into a crock pot to reduce your time in the kitchen. Most grocery stores offer pre-made meals that if paired correctly, will offer a healthy and quick alternative to a drive-through fast food joint. Take advantage and learn to say “yes, thank you”, to friends or neighbors who offer to bring in meals, run to the store or cook for you.
Fifth, see number one. Reach out today. You are so important to the person you care for. They need you. Your family needs you. There are some wonderful professionals in our South Florida community, and in other communities throughout this country who can guide you, support you, and help you create a healthy plan that works best for you!