Caring for a spouse suffering from dementia can be challenging. It’s perfectly normal to feel frustrated, depressed and worn out. If you’re feeling this way, you’re not alone. Learn what to watch out for and why it’s important for the caregiver to also take care of him/herself.
By guest blogger: Jeff Anderson
According to analysis by the Alzheimer’s Association, up to 2.5 million Americans care for a spouse with Alzheimer’s or another kind of dementia. This noble undertaking can stretch the caregiver’s limits and takes a significant toll, both physically and emotionally. Learning to recognize the signs of caregiver burnout are important.
Signs of Caregiver Suffering
Common negative impacts of caring for a spouse with a memory disorder can include the following:
- Stress: There’s no way around it; caregiving is stressful. In fact, 61 percent of family caregivers of people with a memory disorder report feeling high or very high levels of stress. Managing all aspects of a household without help while simultaneously shouldering the burden of full-time caregiving is outright grueling. What’s more, spousal caregivers are usually seniors themselves, so they often have to face the most difficult challenge of their life while experiencing their own age-related health problems.
- Depression: Watching someone who is very close to you slowly slip away is deeply saddening. This sadness often comes from a feeling of loss—the loss of your marriage as you knew it, the loss of happier days, the loss of leisure time. It’s normal to be sad in sad circumstances, but too often this sadness becomes clinical depression, which impairs ability to function normally and can cause people to “let themselves go.”
- Health problems: Caring for someone with a memory disorder can also be physically detrimental. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, “caregivers of a spouse with Alzheimer’s or other dementias are more likely than married non-caregivers to have physiological changes that may reflect declining physical health.” Some of these health problems include decreased immune function, higher blood pressure, increased odds of coronary heart disease and slower wound healing.
- Financial trouble: Full-time caregiving and a day job usually aren’t compatible. Spousal caregivers who work often have to give up employment and retire early. Furthermore, the cost of paid care, which often becomes necessary, can wreak financial havoc.
It’s important to recognize that these four areas of impact are interconnected. For example, stress and depression can provoke health problems, and vice versa. Working to mitigate negative impact in one of these areas will be beneficial in other areas.
Caring for Yourself: Crucial When You’re a Caregiver
There are certainly positive aspects of caregiving too, such as the satisfaction we get from helping someone who we love very much, but it’s clear that family caregivers, particularly caregiving spouses, frequently sacrifice their own physical and mental wellbeing for their loved one. When they try to do too much, or to do everything, they are inviting what the caregiving community calls “caregiver burnout.” While no one has a right to question the wisdom of this sacrifice, spousal caregivers should recognize that by taking care of themselves and keeping well, they will be better caregivers and happier people.
Learn more about dementia in A Place For Mom’s Guide To Dementia Information.