The Emotional Impact of Living Under the Care of Alzheimer's
Alzheimer’s disease is an irreversible brain disorder that involves progressive cognitive, behavioral, and social decline.
This form of dementia slowly erodes a person’s cognitive abilities and functioning in general to the point where they must rely on others for basic daily needs and tasks.
Innovative care of dementia nowadays can make the lives of affected individuals somewhat easier. However, most people with dementia rely on permanent caregivers’ assistance with activities of daily living (ADLs).
Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of progressive dementia, affecting 60–80% of aging individuals. While younger people can develop Alzheimer’s, the risk increases with age; for most people, the first symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease appear in their mid-60s.
Alzheimer's Disease Symptoms and Signs
Dementia is not a part of normal aging but an illness. People with Alzheimer’s and other types of dementia have trouble remembering things, making good decisions, and solving problems. They also have difficulty paying attention, seeing, hearing, and communicating.
However, the first symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease may vary from one person to another. If you or someone close to you is having any of the following symptoms, you should see your doctor:
- Difficulties remembering recent events and conversations
- Impaired reasoning and judgment
- Anxiety and depression
- Vision and spatial problems
- Misplacing things
- Confusion and disorientation
- Difficulty finding words
- Difficulty speaking
- Changes in behavior
- Hallucinations and delusions
In the advanced stages of the disease, patients typically experience difficulties walking and swallowing. Like other dementias, Alzheimer’s disease has no known exact cause and no known cure.
The Most Important Emotional Challenges in Caring for a Person with Dementia
The role of a caregiver can be both a rewarding and challenging one. A dementia caregiver’s typical responsibilities range from personal care, meal preparation, health monitoring to transportation, home organization, and emotional support.
Dementia patients rely on others to meet their basic daily needs, so it may take a lot of patience and flexibility to care for someone with Alzheimer’s disease. Dementia is often linked to significant emotional distress, so Alzheimer’s patients may easily become agitated, depressed, or overwhelmed.
Anger in a person with dementia can be triggered by anything from boredom to confusion and over-stimulation. For example, a person with Alzheimer’s in your care can become irritated or angry by physical triggers like exhaustion, discomfort, or soreness. Or they may become sad and overwhelmed when they feel disoriented, lonely, or bored.
In addition, mixed-up memories, sudden transitions, and similar challenges can also cause emotional distress in people with dementia.
For that reason, caring for a person with dementia can be emotionally, mentally, and physically exhausting, leading to caregiver fatigue and burnout.
What is Caregiver Burnout?
Even if caregivers use innovative care for dementia, such as technology, new treatment options, or other new things to help people with dementia, they still get tired and worn out.
Caregiver burnout occurs when the stress of daily caregiving duties becomes too much to bear, resulting in emotional, mental, and physical exhaustion. Fatigue may be accompanied by a shift in a caregiver’s attitude, causing them to become indifferent and negative rather than a passionate and considerate caregiver.
You may experience caregiver burnout when you become so focused on the person’s needs in your care that you neglect your own well-being.
If you experience high levels of stress, anxiety, or depression, you may be at risk of developing caregiver burnout.
How to Recognize Caregiver Burnout?
Stress in caregivers manifests as emotional, physical, and cognitive symptoms. The most common signs of stress in caregivers are fatigue, worry and sadness, and irritability.
Also, caregiver stress can make people not want to do things that they used to enjoy, make them use alcohol or drugs to cope, and cause them to have aches and pains all the time.
What Is Caregiver Stress?
Caregiver stress syndrome in Alzheimer’s caregivers can manifest as emotional, physical, and cognitive symptoms. The most common signs of caregiver stress are fatigue, worry, sadness, and irritability.
If not addressed on time, dementia caregiver stress can result in burnout, interfering with your daily life, productivity, other relationships, and mental health.
The most common signs of caregiver burnout can include:
- Sleep issues (either sleeping too much or too little)
- Ongoing fatigue
- Changes in appetite and weight
- Loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities
- Frequent aches and pains
- Guilt for putting your needs first
- Weakened immune system
- Abuse of alcohol or drugs
How to Manage the Emotional Challenges of a Dementia Caregiver
Resilience is what every dementia caregiver needs most to provide loving and caring care and keep their own mental health in check. However, being resilient does not imply that you are stress-free. Instead, resilience is more about dealing with stress and recovering quickly from adversity.
So, here are some practical ways to increase resilience and cope with the emotional challenges of being a caregiver to prevent caregiver burnout.
Take Rest Periods
Take breaks whenever you feel yourself (or the person in your care) becoming overwhelmed. To make tasks less stressful, try changing the dynamics of what you’re doing or breaking them down into smaller steps. Frequently Redirect the dementia patient gently when they become agitated or aggressive.
As a dementia caregiver, you can only do so much, so try not to feel responsible for a person in your care’s feelings or needs.
Consider joining a caregiver support group or seeking psychotherapy. Sharing your experiences, concerns, and caregiving tips with others in support groups can be a safe way to cope. You can also learn important caregiving tips, offer and receive support, and help others.
Caring for another person demands time, dedication, flexibility, and sacrifice. Being a caregiver is difficult because you witness a decline in your loved one. Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia weaken a person’s cognitive abilities, causing confusion, depression, angry outbursts, and meltdowns. This makes it more challenging to care for them.
To prevent caregiver burnout, take care of yourself. Remember that self-care is not a sign of selfishness but the only way to maintain good mental health and help the person with dementia in your care.