Caring for a loved one with dementia can be challenging, but having resources in place can help make it easier.
Behind every successful person — whether athlete, actor, or author — is a team of people who helped bring that success to life. Caregiving is no different. When you assemble a group of people, plus find resources, and build habits that can support you, you’ll feel more prepared and confident in your caregiving journey
Supporting yourself as a caregiver of a loved one with dementia requires a few simple steps. Read on to learn more.
Step 1: Assemble Your Support Team
As a caregiver, there’s no need to do everything alone. From medical needs to personal support, try to build a group of people who can help you in a variety of situations. Choose people you know will be able to support you in the following ways.
- Medical. Since you will be speaking frequently with your loved one’s primary care provider, it is important that you are able to trust them, as well as share your concerns freely. If you aren’t confident your loved one’s primary care provider is the right fit, don’t hesitate to find a new one. Additionally, you’ll want to connect with a specialist who has experience working with people with dementia — such as a geriatrician, neurologist, or psychiatrist.
- Practical. There are times when you’ll need help with everyday tasks, whether it’s running to the grocery store or shuttling your kids to practice. Seek a trustworthy neighbor, friend, or family member who’s willing to help out in these times.
- Personal. Don’t neglect your own care when providing help to a loved one. Identify resources such as religious organizations or community groups where you can find support for Alzheimer's caregivers. A licensed therapist specializing in elder care can also be a great addition to your team. Keep close friends or family members apprised of the situation and your need for help.
When you need assistance from your care team, be specific with what they can do. And don’t forget to thank them — a little appreciation goes a long way and makes it more likely they’ll continue to help.
Related: Benefits of joining a memory care support group >>
Step 2: Delegate Tasks
No one can do everything, and there are only so many hours in a day. Therefore, learning to prioritize important tasks and delegate — or let go of — others is critical to making your role as a caregiver easier.
First, don’t be afraid to ask for help. That’s what your support team is there for. Utilize technology wherever possible — there’s an app for just about everything, so take advantage of services like meal and grocery delivery, handyman services, and more.
Even members of your caregiving team who live far away can help out. They may be able to schedule appointments, spend time on the phone with your loved one, manage finances, and take care of ordering supplies.
If you’re a primary caregiver who takes care of most of your loved one’s daily tasks, adult day services or respite care can offer you a break to get things done or recharge.
Related: Free resources for dementia caregivers to explore >>
Step 3: Care For Yourself
Any job that requires intense physical and emotional work can be tiring. Caregiving is no different. To provide the best care to your loved one, it is essential you take care of yourself first.
Caregiver stress and feelings of burnout can make caregiving more difficult. Signs of caregiver stress include:
- Feeling overwhelmed, alone, isolated, or deserted by others
- Sleeping too much or too little
- Gaining or losing a lot of weight
- Feeling tired most of the time
- Losing interest in activities you used to enjoy
- Becoming easily irritated or angered
- Feeling worried or sad
- Having headaches or body aches often
If you’re experiencing these symptoms, be sure to take time to care for your physical and mental health.
Caring for your physical health as a caregiver
Taking care of your body is an important step in maintaining your overall well-being and effectiveness as a caregiver
- Eat a healthy diet, including fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and healthy fats.
- Stay active, aiming for 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise each week.
- Don’t neglect your routine check-ups, especially if you have a chronic illness like diabetes, high blood pressure, or heart disease.
- Protect your joints when lifting something heavy or helping your loved one by bending your knees and straightening your back.
- Get enough sleep. Adults need seven to eight hours of good-quality sleep each night.
Caring for your mental health as a caregiver
You may feel so focused on caring for your loved one and taking care of other responsibilities that your own mental health comes last. However, it’s important to address it to prevent caregiver burnout and keep you feeling your best.
Many caregivers feel overwhelmed with all they need to do. It can be helpful to set small, manageable goals for yourself — whether the end result is getting through the day or planning for the next few months. Remember to ask for help when needed.
It’s also common to feel that you aren’t doing enough. Remind yourself that you’re doing your best, and that’s all you can do. No one is a “perfect” caregiver. If your loved one’s best interests are at heart, you’re on the right track.
Make sure to stay connected to others, whether it’s people in your support group or other friends, family, or coworkers. Social connection can bring numerous benefits and that can also help you stay healthy, both physically and mentally. You can also explore resources in your area geared toward those providing care for a loved one.
Finally, don’t forget to take breaks for yourself. Utilize adult day services and respite care programs to give yourself time to get work done, take a vacation, or simply relax. When you take better care of yourself, you’ll be able to be a better caregiver.
When it’s Time for More Help
At some point, you may find that a loved one with dementia requires more care than you can provide yourself. Senior living communities that offer specialized memory care are one option to consider.
Memory care communities provide a supportive and nurturing environment that allows older adults with dementia to live meaningful and fulfilling lives. In addition to receiving expert care, residents have access to appropriate activities and social opportunities that are enriching and engaging.
Learn more about memory care communities in our blog post, “When is the right time for a memory care community? What should I consider?”