The Warning Signs of Caregiver Stress

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Dr. Diane Bovenkamp

News You Can Use: Dr. Diane Bovenkamp, Science Communications Specialist for BrightFocus Foundation, discusses the warning signs for caregiver stress.

  • Katherine Jimenez:  Hi, I’m Katherine Jimenez, and I’m with Alzheimer’s Disease Research, a program of the BrightFocus Foundation, a nonprofit organization leading the fight to save sight and mind. 

    Today’s topic is on Caregiver Stress, which is far too common among those who are taking care of people with Alzheimer’s disease. Dr. Diane Bovenkamp, Science Communications Specialist, is going to help us learn about the warning signs for caregiver stress and ways to begin coping with that stress.

    Hi Diane.

    Dr. Diane Bovenkamp: Hello Katherine, and thanks for focusing on this very important topic. This disease is so devastating, but even more so when you consider that an estimated 60-70 percent of people with Alzheimer’s disease and other Dementias are cared for in their homes, often by loved ones who are not medically trained. The burden of care is tremendous and can take a mental and physical toll on them. Prolonged stress is likely to contribute to depression, a weakened immune system, high blood pressure, heart disease, and other negative health outcomes.

    Katherine Jimenez: Diane, what are some indications that the stress level of the caregiver is too high?

    Dr. Diane Bovenkamp: Let’s summarize those into a “Top 10 List of Warning Signs of Caregiver Stress”

    • First, would be denial; that’s a sense that you can’t face what is happening
    • Anxiety, that is an excessive worrying about today and the future
    • Depression, which is feeling hopeless or powerless
    • Irritability, including “blowing up” over little things
    • Feeling angry at inappropriate times
    • Having difficulty concentrating
    • Withdrawing from other people and activities
    • Sleeping poorly, or too much
    • Feeling chronically exhausted
    • And finally, suffering from your own health problems

    Katherine Jimenez: I’m sure people can begin feeling this way when they are constantly caring for someone with this disease…and especially as many of us have to continue working, raising our children, and handling our own day-to-day responsibilities. How can someone  take steps to feel under control over this?

    Dr. Diane Bovenkamp: Control is a critical word here. It’s important to learn everything you can about the illness and know what to expect. For example, I’ve heard many people say “don’t expect your loved one to get better…or to recover functions that he or she has lost.”

    You can educate yourself and accept the inevitabilities, and find sources of help through the government, local respite services, support groups, friends, or your house of worship. Do your legal and financial planning right away so those decisions are made.

    Make your home a safe and calming environment and establish a predictable routine. In particular, find ways to Alzheimer’s-proof your home.

    Accept that your relationship with the person who has Alzheimer’s will keep changing over time and that he or she will continue to lose capabilities.

    And finally, understand that sometimes your attitude is the only thing you can change. Stay open to the moments when you can enjoy time with your loved one. Let go of unrealistic expectations…for your loved one and yourself.

    Katherine Jimenez: Thank you Diane, for this very helpful information, and thanks everyone for listening. Stay tuned for future podcasts on Alzheimer’s disease. For more information about Alzheimer’s disease and caregiving, and to get involved in advancing research to end this degenerative brain disease, visit, or call 1-855-345-6ADR. That’s 1-855-345-6237. Thanks again everyone.

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