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Why Alzheimer’s caregivers need to take care of themselves too

Tara Reed

As a caregiver, it is important to make sure you are taking proper care of yourself so that you can effectively care and advocate for others. So often, we become bogged down in all the things on our to-do list of life that we put our own self-care at the bottom of the pile.

For every person with dementia or Alzheimer’s, it is estimated that one to four family members are involved in his or her caregiving in some way. As a caregiver, you not only care for and make hard decisions for a loved one, but you also deal with the personal emotions and grief that come along with watching their decline.

Putting yourself last is the worst thing you can do as a caregiver

Obviously, in the case of an emergency, you may need to put your own self-care aside and take care of the situation. But in general, too many people are allowing the needs of others to come before their own health and wellness needs, and that’s bad news for everyone.

According to a recent study by the Alzheimer’s Association, 74 percent of caregivers reported being “somewhat more concerned” to “very concerned” about maintaining their own health since becoming a caregiver. Depression, anxiety, sleep issues and even suicidal thoughts aren’t uncommon for caregivers — so create strategies to deal with stress, get some time off and stay healthy through the journey.

Taking care of yourself isn’t selfish — it’s vital. When you are stressed out, exhausted and run down, your ability to make sound decisions is diminished. Your immune system is lowered and your overall quality of life is affected.

Here are three ways to add to your self-care routine for the new year

  1. Create a joy list — When is the last time you sat down and really thought about the things that bring joy to your life? Have you ever made a list that you can look at when you need a pick-me-up? I started doing this a few years ago and found it to be a helpful tool. Create a list of things you enjoy: some that are free like taking a walk or talking with a friend and some that cost money like going to the movies or getting a massage.
    Plan to do at least one thing from your joy list every week. When that becomes a routine, increase to two per week — and more!
  2. Put it on the calendar — Block off time on your calendar for yourself so it doesn’t become filled with other obligations. Maybe every Saturday you have a few hours to do whatever you want to do or you can be more flexible with the timing. Just be sure to put yourself on your calendar or you may not get the time you need.
  3. Start or join a group — Sometimes, it is easier to make time for things you love when they are scheduled and when others expect you to show up! Start or join a book or knitting club. Join a walking group. Look for people with common interests and increase your social and support circle while taking part in activities that bring a smile to your face.

Putting yourself first on a regular basis and taking care of your physical and mental health will help you to do your best for everyone else in your life as well. Take some time to consider how you are doing in the self-care department and where you might make some changes to increase your health and happiness and decrease your stress levels.

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