Caring for a dementia patient is a demanding process that becomes more challenging as the disease progresses. Still, many people choose to care for their family members at home for as long as possible after a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia. It can be easy for these caregivers to forget about their own health.
Nurses and other medical professionals who care for patients with dementia receive rigorous training to help them get through their daily tasks. They also get to leave at some point. Family caregivers may not have these advantages. Their attention can become fixated solely on the health of their loved one. They may believe that this is the logical approach, but the failure to care for their own health can negatively impact everyone involved.
Five Risks of Caregiver Burnout
1. Poor physical health resulting from disrupted schedules (eating, sleeping, etc.)
2. Constant stress can lead to severe mental health impairments
3. Relationships may deteriorate due to increased isolation and psychological factors
4. Financial distress as employment time/effort is impacted
5. The patient suffers: An unhealthy caregiver is a poor caregiver
One of the biggest barriers to maintaining good health that people face when caring for a loved one with dementia is the inability to admit that they need help. It is understandably difficult to detach oneself from the situation, especially considering the deep bond that commonly exists between the caregiver and the person being cared for (parent-child, grandparent-grandchild, etc.). Still, it is critical that family caregivers take the necessary steps to ensure their own well-being. Otherwise, they risk reducing the quality of life for themselves and their loved ones.
How to Prevent Caregiver Burnout
- Plan Ahead: Early diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias is important for many reasons; options can be discussed, treatments can begin, and it provides more time to construct a care plan with the input of the affected person. The BrainTest® app is an easy way for anyone to detect the signs of impending Alzheimer’s and other dementias and could help maximize the amount of time available for caregivers and their loved ones to create the necessary plans together.
- Enlist Family and Friends: No one should have to undertake this kind of task alone. It takes an entire rotating staff to care for Alzheimer’s and dementia patients in professional environments. Recruiting additional help in the form of family or friends will go a long way toward ensuring that the affected person receives adequate care, while also safeguarding the well-being of those who provide it.
- Use Professional Services: There are usually several services available in any given area that can be indispensable for people caring for dementia patients at home. Social programs can enhance the social lives of people with the disease, while also providing some much needed time off for family caregivers. There are also medical care professionals that can be hired for a few hours to days at a time. These services are especially helpful during the late stages of the illness.
- Letting Go: There will likely come a time when caring for a person Alzheimer’s or another dementia in the home becomes unhealthy for both the patient and the caregiver. These diseases are terminal, meaning that professional end-of-life care will almost certainly be the best choice at some point in the later stages. Ideally, this is something that the caregiver and patient can discuss early in the diagnosis. It is not an easy topic to bring up, but preparing for the inevitable will help reduce the long-term suffering for everyone involved.
Caring for a loved one with dementia can be all-consuming, but it is important for caregivers to tend to their own lives as well. Caregivers who push themselves to the point of burnout may experience their own health problems as a result of the experience, along with long-term consequences for their social lives and personal relationships. Taking the measures outlined above to help prevent burnout will help caregivers minimize such complications, while also enhancing the quality of life for their loved ones.