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Create time for self-care

If you care for a friend or loved one with Alzheimer’s, you can easily devote all of your time to ensuring that the person gets the attention and love they need and deserve.

But taking care of someone with Alzheimer’s can be a stressful job—you care for them all hours of the day, leaving little time for yourself. This can lead to stress and even your own health problems if you don’t also take care of yourself. 

“Over time, Alzheimer’s disease patients might go from appearing confused about what day it is to forgetting their address and difficulties doing daily activities to finally having trouble communicating and walking,” said behavioral neurologist Glen R. Finney, MD, director of the Memory and Cognition program at Geisinger. “At moderate and late stages, Alzheimer’s requires around-the-clock care that is difficult for one person to give.”

As a caregiver, it’s important to know the signs of stress and how to prevent it so you can continue to care for your loved one. 

“If you let the stress of your job as a caretaker get out of control, you could make yourself sick, which would make it harder for you to take care of your loved one,” said Dr. Finney. “There are some ways you can recognize stress and prevent it.”

First, learn to recognize when you are stressed out. If you’re feeling angry, irritable, depressed or anxious, stress is likely taking its toll. Having sleepless nights, not feeling well-rested and having a hard time concentrating are also signs of stress that should be addressed. Stress can also cause some physical problems like blurred vision, stomach problems or high blood pressure. 

“It’s important to go to regular doctor visits, but any of these signs of stress warrant a separate trip to your doctor to get help,” said Dr. Finney. 

In addition to managing stress, it’s also important to get regular exercise, eat a healthy diet and take some time to yourself. 

“In particular with Alzheimer’s patients, you may want to turn to another family member to give yourself a break,” said Dr. Finney. “You should take the time to keep up with hobbies, exercise, enjoy a fun activity like going to the movies or even go shopping. And it’s important to enjoy these activities guilt-free.” 

Relaxation techniques, such as meditation and breathing exercises, can also help you reduce stress and cope with the situation. 

Another resource for Alzheimer’s caretakers is a support group, which can help with feeling stressed. Your local health system may run support groups. In addition, the Alzheimer’s Association can help you find comfort and reassurance from other friends and loved ones of Alzheimer’s patients. 

Finally, if you feel like you’re overwhelmed by caring for your loved one with Alzheimer’s disease, you should turn to professional help. Alzheimer’s is progressive, which means that you may not be able to care for your loved one all the time. A home health organization or long-term care facility may be the answer.

“If you feel that you can no longer care for your loved one, talk to their doctor about your options for long-term care,” said Dr. Finney. 

Dr. Glen Finney is a behavioral neurologist at Geisinger Wyoming Valley Medical Center in Wilkes-Barre. The Memory and Cognition Program offers support groups for patients and caregivers. To find a local, no-cost session, visit geisinger.org/events and search “support.” 
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