According to the Alzheimer’s Association, as much as 80 percent of care for people with dementia is provided by family members and friends. The most recent data, collected in 2012, estimates that 15.4 million individuals contributed to a total of 17.5 billion hours of voluntary, unpaid service, amounting to approximately $216.4 billion in value.
The family caregivers’ impact, however, is matched by the stress that the role can have on their lives. Their long, unpaid hours are not without a price, as many people sacrifice their own social lives or careers to care for another. To minimize the strain that offering Alzheimer’s care for a loved one can cause and maintain a healthy lifestyle of their own, people should keep in mind the following pointers:
Remember to fulfill own needs
While caring for another person can become a full-time role, it’s important that family members and friends don’t let their own health needs fall to the wayside. Forgetting to make time for themselves may not only worsen caregivers’ ability to care for their loved one, but also result in negative physical and emotional side effects. Family and friends who begin to feel worn down or become susceptible to health conditions should consider how they are caring for themselves. Be mindful of issues such as proper diet, regular exercise and sufficient sleep.
Look for stress-reducing outlets
Even if each day is balanced to include nutrition, fitness and rest, unexpected obstacles or additional day-to-day responsibilities can build on the amount of stress that a person caring for an older adult feels. For this reason, it’s important to look for outlets that can alleviate some of that pressure before it feels overwhelming.
Many people enjoy active sources of relief, such as joining a gym or participating in fitness courses. Classes aimed at honing a hobby or learning a new skill can also be a way to work out one’s mind without stressing it too much. Paul Divingracia, 75, has been caring for his wife, Virgie, for the past 11 years as her Alzheimer’s has progressed. Divingracia told The New York Times that patience and humor are particularly key to keeping him, as well as his wife, in good spirits.
“We laugh a lot – laughter definitely helps,” he said. “I make jokes out of many of the problems. Maintaining a sense of humor enables me to stay in balance.”