The statistics paint the picture: 5.5 million Americans are living with Alzheimer's dementia, according to data from the Alzheimer’s Association. Almost 16 million family and friends (two-thirds of them women) provide 18.2 billion hours of unpaid care and aid for people with Alzheimer's and other dementias.
Though these uncompensated Alzheimer’s caregivers’ work is valued at $230.1 billion, many of them pay a steeper personal price. Twice as many people who care for Alzheimer’s patients experience substantial financial, physical and emotional difficulties compared to those who care for people without dementia.
Many people caring for adults with Alzheimer’s and dementia battle their own health issues, including caregiver depression and anxiety.
Causes of Depression and Anxiety in Alzheimer’s Caregivers
About a quarter of today’s caregivers belong to the “sandwich generation”, caring for children and older adults in their families. These caregivers also are likely to hold at least one part-time job because it can be difficult to manage full-time careers while tending to the needs of older and younger relations.
As a result, responsibilities such as doctors’ appointments, shopping excursions, banking and bill paying, and keeping children and elders engaged often fall to you. If you’re lucky, another sibling or relative helps with these tasks to lighten your load. If not, you face these needs alone, heightening stress and anxiety, coupled often with feelings of hopelessness.
The results of an 18-month University of Wisconsin study suggest that caregivers who do not share responsibilities with a sibling are more likely to experience depression.
Adding the to the emotional toll is the fact that Alzheimer’s caregivers witness changing behaviors in the older adults they care for. It’s especially heartbreaking to watch a parent or partner struggle with the impact of the condition and/or become more like a stranger over time.
And because dementia-related diseases can span many years, caregivers can feel cut off from family, friends, and the outside world for long periods of time. This feeling of isolation add to the feelings of sadness and worry.
Managing Depression and Anxiety in Alzheimer’s Caregivers
We can guard against depression and anxiety with a two-pronged approach:
Care for Yourself. You might feel it’s selfish to concentrate on your own needs, or you might not think you can find the time to take care of yourself. But that’s not the case. “If you're exhausted, your thoughts, actions, emotions, and spirit are all compromised. It takes a lot of stamina to be alert and of service in a loving and constructive way. So take care of yourself so you can give with love and respect to your aging parents,” explains Jude Bijou, author of Attitude Reconstruction: A Blueprint for Building a Better Life.
Tips: Carve out 20 minutes a day to exercise or invest in apps that help you chalk up the activities in small chunks throughout the day. Use your healthcare providers’ online portals to schedule appointments and ask basic questions so you have more time for yourself. And talk to your own physician if you feel yourself feeling sad or anxious for more than 2 weeks.
Seek support. Even when family and friends don’t “get it”, you can get empathy and support from groups in your local community and/or online. “The biggest stressor is trying to do caregiving alone. When faced with a caregiving situation, consider all the people who care about you and your parent (or whoever it is you are caring for). You are the captain of the caregiving ship but these other folks can be part of the caregiving crew,” asserts Jennifer FitzPatrick, MSW, author of Cruising Through Caregiving: Reducing The Stress of Caring for Your Loved One.
Tips: Get your children involved in Alzheimer’s caregiving, household chores or errands. Investigate options for respite care in your community, especially if you can’t or don’t feel comfortable asking for help from other family members. Reduce feelings of isolation by participating in in-person or online caregiver support groups such as the Alzheimer’s Association’s Alzheimer’s and Dementia Caregiver Center.
Getting the care and attention you need to avoid depression and anxiety is critical to your continued ability to provide great care to a parent with Alzheimer’s. Follow this advice to stay emotionally strong.
Updated June 2017