When you’re caring for an older loved one, it’s easy to neglect yourself. Unfortunately, this is especially true when your loved one has dementia or Alzheimer’s, as both require diligent and focused care. Many times, those caring for loved ones are gradually put into that role without any training, experience, or previous knowledge of these complex conditions and what’s required. You just know that you love that person and want to help them be comfortable and happy. As such, caregiving might encompass most of your time and eventually, your entire life, but self-care for caregivers is just as essential.
It can be challenging to see why self-care for caregivers is so important—or know how to do it. In this guide, we explain the importance of self-care as well as offer seven tips on how you can integrate helpful practices into your daily life (without discounting your loved one).
Why Self-Care for Caregivers Matters
Caring for yourself as a caregiver is anything but frivolous, although it’s common to feel that way. Don’t feel guilty for prioritizing self-care—it’s a necessity, not a luxury. Allowing yourself to have that time might also mean seeking help with dementia care—and that’s perfectly acceptable. You may feel like your own stress or concerns pale in comparison to your loved ones dealing with the effects of dementia. But you’re still a human being with needs; show yourself the same support you do for others.
While self-care is important for you, it also benefits those you care for. The stress of caregiving can cause burnout, a condition that lessens your ability to care for others. Burnout can result in crying spells, fatigue, anger, and helplessness. To really be present and caring, you have to be mentally, emotionally, and physically healthy.
Use this as your mantra and daily reminder: caring for yourself is caring for your loved one too.
7 Tips to Practice Self-Care as a Dementia Caregiver
Even once you accept that self-care for caregivers is essential, it can be hard to know how to do it. Here are seven simple ways you can make sure you’re caring for yourself while caring for your love one:
- Ask for help with dementia care. First, know that you don’t have to deal with this on your own. Self-care is much more manageable with assistance. If you have family members available, talk to them about consistent help. Even if it’s just a sibling coming over for a couple of hours each week, that time can be transformative. Be vocal and straight forward that you need help with dementia care and outline specific plans to get it. Additionally, an in-home nurse or respite care can give you a break from caregiving and relief, knowing that you have professional help.
- Take breaks each day. If your entire day is an unbroken stream of dementia care, burnout is very likely. Find ways to take consistent, meaningful breaks. Have a cup of tea, enjoy a solo lunch, go for a walk, or call a friend. This will help you feel refreshed, centered, and ready to take on the next challenge. If you feel like you have no opportunity to do this, adjust your schedule to make time. For example, set an alarm to wake up before your loved one.
- Consider joining a caregiver’s support group. Sometimes, it can be hard for people to understand how stressful caregiving is. Chatting with others who empathize lets you vent without having to explain yourself or worrying about misunderstandings. Caregiver support groups are available both online or in-person. Choose what works best with your schedule and comfort level.
- Don’t neglect your passions. It’s easy to let caregiving take over your life, including your favorite activities. But make sure to frequently nourish your hobbies, interests, and passions. For example, read a book, take photographs, or continue with exercise classes. Whatever you love, make sure it has a place in your life.
- Focus on health and wellness. When you’re caring for someone else, it can be easy to let your health habits and daily practices slide. However, you need to focus on your own physical health as well as your loved one. Eat regular, balanced meals, set a timer if you need to remember. Try to get physical exercise throughout the day. Get enough sleep and rest. Keep up with regular visits to your doctor. In addition to standard care, they can help you notice any stress-related health issues you may experience from caregiving.
- Be mindful of mental health. Don’t be dismissive of the importance of therapy. Talking to a therapist (either online or in-person) can help you handle grief, tolerate stress, and process what you’re going through. Dementia isn’t only hard on the afflicted; it’s hard on their loved ones as well.
- Research long-term care options: Dementia and Alzheimer’s are progressive diseases. With time, it will be harder to handle on your own. Before that time comes, research memory care communities that offer full-time, expert-level help. Remember, there’s no shame in seeking professional help for dementia care.
Self-Care for Caregivers is Vital
You may feel like you don’t have the time, energy, or motivation to care for yourself and your loved one. But no matter what, you deserve to support your mind, body, and emotions. Not only will it help you be your best self, but it’ll also help you be the best caregiver possible. Take breaks, indulge in your passions, share your feelings, and monitor your own wellbeing. Caregiving is rewarding, but it’s hard, stressful, and emotionally exhausting. With regular self-care, you can make sure both yourself and your loved one are properly supported through this journey.
If you need guidance or even more resources for caregiving for dementia, please reach out to our expert team at your nearest Vineyard community.