Minding the needs of the caregiver when cognitive decline becomes a family affair

When we are feeling good, we often take our physical, psychological and brain health for granted. We’ve been conditioned to believe that if we’re mindful of our lifestyle, health is not only our reward, but also our right.

Unfortunately, it does not always turn out that way. Devastating diagnoses of Alzheimer’s disease or dementia affect 1 in 11 Canadians over the age of 65 and when a diagnosis is made it affects not only the individual, but the entire family. Typically a dedicated family member becomes the primary caregiver and their own health is often overlooked. When this happens, it often puts the caregiver at risk for many stress related complications.

The greatest gift we can give to our loved ones is to take care of ourselves first. As difficult as permission for self-care may seem, it’s a critical piece to navigating this complicated situation. Taking time away to recharge is mandatory – this does not mean time to do banking or grocery shopping. Caregivers need to commit to something that brings joy to their lives, such as reading, stargazing, meditation, walking or enjoying coffee with a close friend. These short breaks are the gas stations that re-fuel the spirit and allow us to make ourselves available to our vulnerable loved one.

Self-care is critical because as cognition declines in the diagnosed, the caregiver usually experiences increased emotional awareness. It becomes the primary job of the caregiver to process their own emotion so as not to push down any resentment, anger, or feelings of overwhelming stress. If this is not done, feelings can impede the secondary job of holding a loving, kind space for someone in need.

If you or a loved one is feeling overwhelmed from caring for a family member with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia, or if you are having difficulty finding a strategy to incorporate self-care into your life, contact your Copeman Healthcare Psychology team and let us help you navigate these challenges.