The Alzheimer’s Association reports that approximately 15.5 million individuals in the U.S. are currently Alzheimer’s caregivers. Caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s disease or any form of dementia can be physically and emotionally demanding, often contributing to the development of mental health issues in these caregivers, such as stress, anxiety and depression. Though it is often instinctual for individuals to ignore their own needs when caring for others, specialists suggest that dementia caregivers practice self-care to protect and reinforce their own physical and mental health.
According to the Alzheimer’s Association, common signs of caregiver stress include anger, social withdrawal, irritability and exhaustion. Whether an individual is responsible for 24/7 care or the loved one has been moved to a facility that specializes in Alzheimer’s care, these effects on the caregiver typically remain constant. Caregivers often report feeling a loss of identity and low self-esteem. The American Psychological Association (APA) also notes that there are common physical health conditions afflicting Alzheimer’s caregivers, including headaches and a weakened immune system.
Due to the stressors surrounding the reality that comes with being an Alzheimer’s caregiver, these individuals report high rates of depression. The Family Caregiver Alliance (FCA) states that approximately 30 to 40 percent of individuals caring for loved ones with dementia struggle with depression and “emotional stress.” This depression typically increases as the dementia patient’s health deteriorates. As with any mental health disorder, depression affects each individual differently. In some cases, depression symptoms develop in a caregiver directly following the loved one’s diagnosis, while other individuals present symptoms years later. Regardless of the timeline for the onset of caregiver depression, specialists recommend that the caregiver seek a mental health professional for treatment.
A metaphor associated with caregiving is the instructions flight attendants recommend should oxygen masks drop down during flight. Passengers are told to each apply his or her personal mask first, then assist any children or other passengers who need help. The rationale behind this is that an individual cannot be of help to others if his or her own basic needs have not been met. The same is true of caregiving for a loved one with dementia. Caregivers often neglect their own mental and/or physical health to focus on those for whom they are caring. The Alzheimer’s Association recommends caregivers take advantage of resources, such as support groups or community networks for dementia caregiving, stay active in their own lives and reach out for professional help, if needed.
If you or a loved one is struggling with depression, anxiety or any other mental health issue as a result of selfless caregiving, it is time to take care of yourself. Sovereign Health Group is here to help, specializing in treating individuals struggling with mental health disorders, substance abuse issues and dual diagnosis. Call (866) 819-0427 to speak with a professional today.
Written by Courtney Howard, Sovereign Health Group writer