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Wednesday, Jun 20, 2018
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Avoid burnout by caring for yourself, too

Most Alzheimer's caregivers struggle with trying to balance their own emotions along with dealing with their family's feelings. At the same time they must grapple with the downward spiral of the ones they're caring for. Caregiving is truly a selfless act of kindness, and at times it seems to go without a word of thanks. The stress levels are tremendous and should not be ignored. Caregiving is a task that is unrelenting. It is both physically and mentally exhausting and, without a doubt, it is a life-changing campaign. As a caregiver, it is vital that you learn to recognize when you are getting close to the burnout stage before you crash head-first into a wall.
One of the biggest mistakes caregivers make is not learning how to ask for help. This can be a very lonely journey. A sense of isolation should be acknowledged as one of the major warning signs. Going for a day or days without seeing anybody except the ones needing your care is potentially dangerous. If this is you, get yourself on the phone and at least talk to a friend. Even better, if you're Internet savvy, use Skype and have a video conversation. The next time someone asks what you would like for your birthday or is inquiring if there is anything they can do to help you, say you need a day or two so you can regroup and start fresh again. It will probably be the last time they ever ask you that question, but at least they might get the point that you need a break. There are many signs that indicate caregivers are advancing toward that dead-tired burnout phase. I'm not going to go through the list because I believe that most know when this is about to happen; they just don't know what to do about it. But the fact remains that caregiver stress is the No. 1 reason people are placed into nursing facilities. If you know you're starting to enter the distraught stage, which happens to almost everyone at some point, get yourself to a support group meeting. Sharing your experiences with others who are walking your shoes can be extremely helpful and even rewarding. This is the best place to learn where you can find help and pick up some tricks of the trade. Try setting some realistic goals. Realize that if your loved one has Alzheimer's, he or she is on a downhill slope and you cannot blame yourself for this inevitable decline. This is, after all, a terminal disease. Do not have expectations that are too high; this person is battling an irreversible foe. Sadly, as we stand right now, the disease is going to win. Caregivers need to make their own self-care a priority. The better you are equipped to provide help and support for your loved one, the more beneficial you will be to them.

Gary Joseph LeBlanc was the primary caregiver for his father for a decade after he was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease. He can be reached at [email protected] His books "Managing Alzheimer's and Dementia Behaviors," "While I Still Can" and "Staying Afloat in a Sea of Forgetfulness," can be found at www.commonsensecaregiving.com.

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