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Stephen A. Pinnacoli
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Why Is Self-Care So Important for Caregivers?

August 11, 2023
According to the Alzheimer’s Association, 59% of Alzheimer’s caregivers and 41% of non-Alzheimer’s caregivers report their emotional stress as high or very high.

A caregiver has a spot in her basement with a recliner, lamp, end table, and book. It’s where she goes to decompress when she needs a break from caring for her 83-year-old mother with dementia — a small but meaningful way that she makes time to care for herself.

More than 11 million caregivers in the United States provide unpaid care for loved ones with dementia, and millions more care for parents or aging loved ones with other health challenges.

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s recent article entitled, “As millions of Americans care for aging loved ones, 'self-care is really important,’” says that roughly 35% of Alzheimer’s caregivers and 19% of non-Alzheimer’s caregivers report declines in their health due to their caregiving responsibilities.

Caregivers can wake up early to give themselves 30 minutes of “me time” in the morning. This can be used to read and listen to music. There’s also comfort in connecting with other people, sharing their stories publicly, and participating in conferences and webinars.

Academic research is increasingly paying attention to caregivers, with support interventions benefiting caregivers and patients. One program in Pennsylvania is working with as many as 100 dementia caregivers. Through it, caregivers work with a community health worker who serves as a “caregiver coach,” as well as geriatricians, neurologists, behavioral health consultants, and social workers.

“They have received training in how to teach caregivers to navigate some of those day-to-day stressors in some of the healthiest ways,” said Lyn Weinberg, geriatrician and director of the AHN division of geriatrics. “The best way to approach a behavior or how to de-escalate or how to know how to take time for themselves.”

The program also connects families with resources to ease their burden, like adult day programs, caregiver agencies, financial and legal assistance, and support groups.

When the caregiver is supported, all the research shows that the patient does better.

The Alzheimer’s Association also facilitates support groups and offers resources — some of which are specific to dementia and some that apply to caregivers for any aging loved one. The Alzheimer’s Association also offers a 24-hour helpline at 800-272–3900 that is available in 200 different languages.

“One of the first pieces of advice is to ask for help,” said Sara Murphy, vice president of programs and services for the Alzheimer’s Association’s Greater Pittsburgh Chapter. “It can be difficult because they feel like others don’t understand what they are going through, or they don’t want to be a burden.”

Reference: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (July 4, 2023) “As millions of Americans care for aging loved ones, 'self-care is really important’”

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