Dementia and Alzheimer’s Caregivers—Three Steps to Maintaining Good Health

Kathleen Allen, LCSW, C-ASWCM

Senior Care Management Services, LLC

  • Expert Advice
Published on:
An adult daughter with her arm around her mother.

There is a very high physical and emotional strain associated with caregiving. Our latest expert article provides helpful tips that are necessary steps to improve your own well-being. You will benefit, and when you are benefitting and feeling well, those around you, including your care recipient, also benefit.

The AARP Public Policy Institute and the National Alliance for Caregiving’s report – “Caregiving in the U.S. 2015” presented the findings of their 2014 study that examined several core areas in caregiving. The 2014 study examined several core areas, among them were demographic characteristics of caregivers and care recipients, prevalence of caregivers in the US, the nature of caregiving activities, and how caregiving affects caregiver stress, strain and health. While the findings were not surprising, they did provide more current information about caregiving in the US, and remind us how difficult caring for someone is, including a person with Alzheimer’s or other type of dementia.

Prevalence and Demographics of Caregivers

The study concluded that approximately 43.5 million adults in the US provided unpaid care to an adult or a child in the prior 12 months. Of that total 43.5 million, Alzheimer’s or dementia was cited by 8 percent of caregivers as the main condition for which the care recipient needs help, with a total of 22 percent reporting their loved one does suffer from Alzheimer’s or dementia, among other conditions. Sixty percent of caregivers are female, 40 percent male. The average age of caregivers in the US is 49 years. Seven percent of caregivers are 75 years of age or older.

Caregiving Activities

The study looked at how caregivers spend their time in their role, reporting that the most common activity of daily living (ADL) assistance was help with transfers in and out of beds and chairs. The most difficult ADLs caregivers assist with are: dealing with incontinence or diapers, helping the recipient to and from the toilet, and providing bathing or showering assistance.

The Stress, the Strain, and the Harm to Caregiver Health

This study reminds us of the high physical and emotional strain of caregiving.

  • Twenty two percent of caregivers responded that their health was worse as the result of caregiving.
  • Fifty percent of those who care for someone with Alzheimer’s or dementia reported feeling emotional stress.

The study concluded that the more assistance with ADLs a caregiver provides, and the more hours spent providing care, the more burden a caregiver feels. Those providing assistance with all six ADLs reported the greatest difficulty.

If you see yourself in these statistics, it is time to take the necessary steps to improve your own well-being. You will benefit, and when you are benefitting and feeling well, those around you, including your care recipient, also benefit. Below we will review steps to start on a new goal or habit so you can give yourself the opportunity to thrive again.

Taking Steps Toward Improved Well Being

First Step: “What Do I Need to Thrive?”

Start by asking yourself the following question: “What do I need to thrive?” or “What do I need for better health or well being?” You might be thinking:

  • A better diet
  • More exercise
  • Spiritual renewal
  • Time to pursue intellectual or social activities
  • Time with family
  • Time alone
  • Short term respite
  • Reduced hours as a caregiver?

Or any number of other things. Name at least one thing that you need for your health to thrive. Then write it down.

Second Step: Be Specific and Set a Schedule

Now be more specific about the activity. If you named exercise, which one? Walking? When will you do your walking? In the morning when it is quiet? In the evening with your spouse? If it is a walk with your spouse you would like, discuss your idea with your spouse, or any other people whose support you need to succeed. Write down the specifics. Put your written plan in a prominent place in your home – the refrigerator, the bathroom mirror, the bedside table – or all of the above. Seeing your goal everyday will help you keep focused on it.

Just Start

Starting a new habit is sometimes the hardest part. If this is a long-term activity, and you think you might be inclined to quit, have a plan to get yourself through the tough spots. Perhaps an exercise partner to keep yourself on track. Support each other and don’t let the other give up.

Third Step: Find Joy in Your Day

You have a big job as a caregiver to someone with dementia or Alzheimer’s. Time for you is sometimes limited. Look for the opportunities in your shared time to include you in that time. Do you play your care recipient’s favorite music? Play some of yours too. Dance around the room. Sing out loud. Where possible, find the joy in the everyday things you do, and remember to fit yourself into the many moments of each day. Remember to have fun. Remember to thrive.

About the author

Headshot of Kathleen Allen.

Kathleen Allen, LCSW, C-ASWCM

Senior Care Management Services, LLC

Kathleen Allen has been working with older adults and their families for over 20 years.

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