Alzheimer’s and Sleep Problems

( People with Alzheimer’s disease go through many changes, and sleep problems are often some of the most noticeable.

Most adults have changes in their sleep patterns as they age. But the problems are more severe and happen more often for people with Alzheimer’s.

You might notice that your loved one:

  • Sleeps a lot more than usual, including taking naps during the day. This is common for people in the early stages of the disease.
  • Has trouble falling asleep or wakes up a lot at night. When he does sleep, he might doze on and off.
  • Wants to sleep more during the day and stay awake at night. This becomes more common as Alzheimer’s gets worse.
  • Gets restless or agitated when the sun sets, a condition called sundowning. He might pace or wander during the night, too.

Scientists aren’t sure why people with Alzheimer’s tend to have problems sleeping. It may be because the disease damages the brain and changes the way it controls the sense of when to get shut-eye and when to be awake.

But even when sleep patterns change, you can make it easier for your loved one to rest and get some Zzz’s yourself.


Most doctors say it’s best to start with changes to lifestyle and behavior to fix sleep problems. There are medications that can aid sleep, but they can be harmful for people with Alzheimer’s, causing confusion and making them more likely to fall.

Here are some tips to get started:

  • Help your loved one keep a regular 24-hour schedule. Eat meals, wake up, and go to bed at the same time each day.
  • Discourage naps during the day, or at least limit them to 30 minutes.
  • Move him into sunlight soon after he wakes up and keep the lighting low as bedtime approaches. This helps set his internal clock closer to normal.
  • Make sure he exercises every day, although not within 4 hours of going to bed.
  • Encourage him to avoid nicotine, alcohol, caffeine, and large meals, especially at night.
  • Make sure his bedroom is comfortable, with the temperature not too warm and not too cold.
  • Check with your loved one’s doctor about other health conditions he might have that can cause sleep problems, such as restless leg syndrome, sleep apnea, or urinary tract infections. There may be treatments that can help.
  • Some Alzheimer’s drugs, like donepezil (Aricept), can cause trouble sleeping. If your loved one takes this medication, avoid giving it to him at night.

A mix of changes may help if one tactic doesn’t work.

Sleep Medications and Alzheimer’s

If your loved one’s doctor prescribes medicine to help him rest, he’ll probably start at the lowest dose possible and stop the drugs as soon as sleep patterns improve.

Medications include:

  • Sleeping pills such as zaleplon (Sonata) and zolpidem (Ambien)

Doctors also sometimes prescribe drugs called antipsychotics such as risperidone (Risperdal). They can be helpful, but they also might increase the risk of death in some people with dementia. You’ll want to talk carefully with your loved one’s doctor about this medicine before he takes it.

Just as Alzheimer’s sleep problems can change over the years, so do the ways you can handle it. Always talk to your doctor about which options are best.

How You Can Get Rest, Too

As a caregiver, it’s just as important for you to get enough shut-eye, so you can take better care of yourself and your loved one.

Many of the same things recommended for people with Alzheimer’s can work for you, too:

  • Keep a regular schedule.
  • Don’t smoke, and cut down on caffeine, alcohol, and large meals, especially at night.
  • Have a comfortable bedroom and use it only for sleeping.
  • If your loved one takes a short nap during the day, take the chance to lie down and rest as well.
  • Connect with other caregivers for support. You might feel better talking to others about your situation and hearing their advice.
  • Aim to get 7-9 hours of sleep a night.
  • Try to relax before you go to bed. Muscle relaxation exercises, writing in a journal, or soft music can help.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Richard Senelick, MD on June 22, 2015

© 2005 – 2018 WebMD, LLC. All rights reserved.


Make Health Your Resolution in 2018

( Make 2018 your healthiest year yet! Add these tips to your resolution list to boost your health and well-being!

Six Tips for 2018

  1. Make an appointment for a check-up, vaccination, or screening. Regular oral and medical exams and tests can help find problems before they start. They also can help find problems early, when your chances for treatment and cure are better.
  2. Wash your hands often with soap and water to prevent the spread of infection and illness. Handwashing involves five simple and effective steps – wet, lather, scrub, rinse, and dry. Learn more about when and how to wash your hands.
  3. Make healthy food choices. A healthy eating plan emphasizes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and fat-free or low-fat milk and milk products. It also includes lean meats, poultry, fish, beans, eggs, and nuts, and is low in saturated fats, trans fats, cholesterol, salt (sodium), and added sugars.
  4. Get active! Start small – try taking the stairs instead of the elevator, or parking further from your destination. Consider mall walking if the weather is cold or icy. Adults should get at least 2½ hours a week of moderate-intensity physical activity.
  5. Be smokefree. If you are ready to quit, call 1-800-QUIT-NOW (1-800-784-8669) or 1-855-DÉJELO-YA (1-855-335-3569 for Spanish speakers) for free resources, including free quit coaching, a free quit plan, free educational materials, and referrals to other resources where you live. Need inspiration? Check out these videos from the Tips From Former Smokers® campaign.
  6. Get enough sleep. Insufficient sleep is associated with a number of chronic diseases and conditions—such as type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, obesity, and depression. Adults need seven or more hours per night.


Alzheimer’s: 7 Tips for Medical Visits

(Mayo Clinic) Regular medical care is an important part of Alzheimer’s treatment. Use these seven tips to stay on top of your loved one’s care.

People who have dementia due to Alzheimer’s disease need regular medical care to address a range of health and behavioral issues. If you provide care for a loved one who has dementia, you’re sure to have lots of questions for his or her doctor — and limited time. To get the most out of your loved one’s medical appointments, consider these seven tips.

Click here to get a free Medical Appointment Checklist (PDF file requiring Adobe Reader)

1. Schedule Wisely

Plan appointments for your loved one’s best time of day and, if possible, when the doctor’s office is least crowded. Bring snacks and water and a portable activity your loved one enjoys.

If going to the doctor has been a problem in the past, wait until the day of the appointment to tell your loved one. If necessary, offer a reward after the visit, such as stopping for ice cream on the way home.

2. Be Prepared

Make a list of issues you’d like to address with the doctor, such as concerns about medication side effects or aggressive behavior. Make a list of every medication your loved one takes, even over-the-counter medications and supplements, or bring the labeled containers in a bag. If your loved one lives in a facility, relay medications that your loved one is taking there or any concerns staff members might have.

Early in the disease, be sure to have your loved one sign a privacy release form at the doctor’s office, so the doctor can freely discuss your loved one’s medical condition with you.

3. Be Specific

Be ready to answer questions about your loved one’s symptoms and behavior. Have you noticed any changes in your loved one’s health, memory, mood or behavior? When did the changes begin?

Do you have concerns about your loved one’s ability to drive or live independently? As the disease progresses, your insight might be the critical factor in determining what’s best for your loved one.

If the doctor prescribes medication for your loved one, find out exactly what time of day and how much of the drug should be taken. Ask why the medication is being prescribed and how long it might be before you see any improvement. Also, ask your doctor what side effects might occur.

4. Take Notes

Bring a pad and pen to jot down information from the doctor. You might also record the conversation so that you can listen to it again later. Or bring a friend or another family member and ask him or her to take notes or to stay with your loved one while you take notes. If you don’t understand something the doctor tells you, ask for clarification.

5. Consider the Future

Ask the doctor to discuss what to expect in the next year or two. You might ask about advance directives, long term care or nursing home placement. You might also discuss hospice or palliative care. Knowing what to expect can help you prepare.

6. Ask for Referrals or Recommendations

If you need help, ask. The doctor can refer you to various community resources, such as the local area agency on aging, meal services, senior centers, respite care and support groups.

7. Deal Promptly with Conflict

If something annoys you about a particular appointment or if a misunderstanding arises, discuss it with the doctor right away. Work as a team to resolve the problem, rather than rushing to switch doctors. A change could be confusing to your loved one and detrimental to his or her care in the long run.


© 1998-2017 Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research (MFMER). All rights reserved.


Caregiver Stress: Tips for Taking Care of Yourself

(Mayo Clinic) Caring for a loved one strains even the most resilient people. If you’re a caregiver, take steps to preserve your own health and well-being.

As the population ages, more caregiving is being provided by people who aren’t health care professionals. These informal caregivers provide 80 percent of long-term care in the United States.

A caregiver is anyone who provides help to another person in need, such as an ill spouse or partner, a disabled child, or an aging relative. However, family members who are actively caring for an older adult often don’t self-identify as a “caregiver.” Recognizing this role can help caregivers receive the support they need.

Caregiving is Rewarding but Stressful

Caregiving can have many rewards. For most caregivers, being there when a loved one needs you is a core value and something you wish to provide.

But a shift in roles and emotions is almost certain. It is natural to feel angry, frustrated, exhausted, alone or sad. Caregiver stress — the emotional and physical stress of caregiving — is common.

People who experience caregiver stress can be vulnerable to changes in their own health. Risk factors for caregiver stress include:

  • Being female
  • Having fewer years of formal education
  • Living with the person you are caring for
  • Social isolation
  • Having depression
  • Financial difficulties
  • Higher number of hours spent caregiving
  • Lack of coping skills and difficulty solving problems
  • Lack of choice in being a caregiver

Signs of Caregiver Stress

As a caregiver, you may be so focused on your loved one that you don’t realize that your own health and well-being are suffering. Watch for these signs of caregiver stress:

  • Feeling overwhelmed or constantly worried
  • Feeling tired most of the time
  • Sleeping too much or too little
  • Gaining or losing a lot of weight
  • Becoming easily irritated or angry
  • Losing interest in activities you used to enjoy
  • Feeling sad
  • Having frequent headaches, bodily pain or other physical problems
  • Abusing alcohol or drugs, including prescription medications

Too much stress, especially over a long time, can harm your health. As a caregiver, you’re more likely to experience symptoms of depression or anxiety. In addition, you may not get enough sleep or physical activity, or eat a balanced diet — which increases your risk of medical problems, such as heart disease and diabetes.

Strategies for Dealing with Caregiver Stress

The emotional and physical demands involved with caregiving can strain even the most resilient person. That’s why it’s so important to take advantage of the many resources and tools available to help you provide care for your loved one. Remember, if you don’t take care of yourself, you won’t be able to care for anyone else.

To help manage caregiver stress:

  • Accept help. Be prepared with a list of ways that others can help you, and let the helper choose what he or she would like to do. For instance, one person might be willing to take the person you care for on a walk a couple of times a week. Someone else might offer to pick up groceries or cook for you.
  • Focus on what you are able to provide. It’s normal to feel guilty sometimes, but understand that no one is a “perfect” caregiver. Believe that you are doing the best you can and making the best decisions you can at any given time.
  • Set realistic goals. Break large tasks into smaller steps that you can do one at a time. Prioritize, make lists and establish a daily routine. Begin to say no to requests that are draining, such as hosting holiday meals.
  • Get connected. Find out about caregiving resources in your community. Many communities have classes specifically about the disease your loved one is facing. Caregiving services such as transportation and meal delivery may be available.
  • Join a support group. A support group can provide validation and encouragement, as well as problem-solving strategies for difficult situations. People in support groups understand what you may be going through. A support group can also be a good place to create meaningful friendships.
  • Seek social support. Make an effort to stay well-connected with family and friends who can offer nonjudgmental emotional support. Set aside time each week for connecting, even if it’s just a walk with a friend.
  • Set personal health goals. For example, set a goal to establish a good sleep routine or to find time to be physically active on most days of the week. It’s also crucial to fuel your body with healthy foods and plenty of water.
  • See your doctor. Get recommended immunizations and screenings. Make sure to tell your doctor that you’re a caregiver. Don’t hesitate to mention any concerns or symptoms you have.

Respite Care

It may be hard to imagine leaving your loved one in someone else’s care, but taking a break can be one of the best things you do for yourself — as well as the person you’re caring for. Most communities have some type of respite care available, such as:

  • In-home respite. Health care aides come to your home to provide companionship, nursing services or both.
  • Adult care centers and programs. Some centers provide care for both older adults and young children, and the two groups may spend time together.
  • Short-term nursing homes. Some assisted living homes, memory care homes and nursing homes accept people needing care for short stays while caregivers are away.

The Caregiver Who Works Outside the Home

Nearly 60 percent of caregivers work outside of the home. If you work outside the home and are feeling overwhelmed, consider taking a break from your job.

Employees covered under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act may be able to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave a year to care for relatives. Ask your human resources office about options for unpaid leave.

You Aren’t Alone

If you’re like many caregivers, you have a hard time asking for help. Unfortunately, this attitude can lead to feeling isolated, frustrated and even depressed.

Rather than struggling on your own, take advantage of local resources for caregivers. To get started, contact your local Area Agency on Aging (AAA) to learn about services in your community. You can find your local AAA online or in the government section of your telephone directory.


By the Mayo Clinic Staff

© 2018 Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. All rights reserved.


Tips for Alzheimer’s Caregivers: Preparing for the Road Ahead and Getting the Help You Need

( Caring for someone with Alzheimer’s disease or another type of dementia impacts every aspect of your daily life. As an Alzheimer’s patient loses one ability after another, a caregiver faces tests of stamina, problem solving, and resiliency. Maintaining your emotional and physical fitness is crucial, not just for you but also for the person you’re caring for. Preparing yourself, understanding your loved one’s experience, and seeking support from others can help you succeed on the caregiving journey.

The Alzheimer’s and Dementia Care Journey

Caring for someone with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia can be a long, stressful, and intensely emotional journey. But you’re not alone. In the United States, there are about 15 million people caring for someone with dementia, and millions of others around the world. As there is currently no cure for Alzheimer’s disease—and only limited medical treatments available for the symptoms—it is your caregiving that can make the biggest difference to your loved one’s quality of life. That is a remarkable gift.

However, caregiving can also become all-consuming. As your loved one’s cognitive, physical, and functional abilities diminish over a period of years, it’s easy to become overwhelmed and neglect your own health and well-being. The burden of caregiving can put you at increased risk for significant health problems and an estimated 30 to 40 percent of dementia caregivers will experience depression, high levels of stress, or burnout. Nearly all Alzheimer’s or dementia caregivers will at some time experience sadness, anxiety, loneliness, and exhaustion. Seeking help and support along the way is not a luxury for caregivers; it’s a necessity.

Just as each individual with Alzheimer’s disease progresses differently, so too can the caregiving experience vary widely from person to person. However, there are strategies that can help make the caregiving journey as rewarding as it is challenging. Learning all you can about what is happening and what to expect on the Alzheimer’s journey will not only help your loved one, but is also the first step towards protecting your own mental and physical health.

The Challenges and Rewards of Alzheimer’s Care

Caring for a person with Alzheimer’s disease can often seem to be a series of grief experiences as you watch your loved one’s memories disappear and skills erode. The person with Alzheimer’s will change and behave in different, sometimes disturbing or upsetting ways. For both caretakers and their patients, these changes can produce an emotional wallop of confusion, anger, and sadness.

As the disease advances, your loved one’s needs will increase and your caregiving responsibilities will become more challenging. At the same time, the ability of your loved one to show appreciation for all your hard work will diminish. Caregiving can literally seem like a thankless task. For many, though, a caregiver’s long journey includes not only challenges, but also many rich, life-affirming rewards.

Challenges of Alzheimer’s care:

  • Overwhelming emotions as capabilities lessen
  • Fatigue and exhaustion as caregiving demands increase
  • Isolation and loneliness as independence disappears
  • Financial and work complications as costs rise and resources are challenged

Rewards of Alzheimer’s care:

  • Bonds deepen through care, companionship, and service
  • Problem solving and relationship skills grow through experience
  • New relationships form through education and support
  • Unexpected rewards develop through compassion and acceptance

Preparing for the Road Ahead

The more you learn about your loved one’s disease and how it will progress over the years, the better you’ll be able to prepare for future challenges, reduce your frustration, and foster reasonable expectations. In the early stages of Alzheimer’s, for example, you can support your loved one’s independence and self-care, but the person’s cognitive and physical regression means he or she will ultimately require 24-hour care.

Though it may be hard to contemplate such a difficult outlook, the sooner you put plans in place, the more your loved one can be involved in the decision-making process. Paying for long-term care can be a major source of stress, so it’s important to research all your options as early as possible. Consult with the patient’s medical team and other family members to make legal and financial arrangements and determine the long-term care options that are best suited to you and your loved one.

Developing Your Own Personal Support Plan Ahead of Time

Balancing the enormous task of caring for a cognitively-impaired adult with your other responsibilities requires skill, attention, and meticulous planning. By focusing so diligently on your loved one’s needs, it’s easy to fall into the trap of neglecting your own health. But that will not only hurt yourself, but also hurt the person you’re trying to care for. If you’re not getting the physical and emotional support you need, you won’t be able to provide the best level of care, and you face becoming overwhelmed.

Ask for help. It’s important to reach out to other family members, friends, or volunteer organizations to help with the daily burden of caregiving. Accepting help for mundane tasks such as grocery shopping and cleaning can free you up to spend more quality time with the patient. When someone offers to help, let them. You’re not being neglectful or disloyal to your loved one. Caregivers who take regular time away not only provide better care, they also find more satisfaction in their caretaking roles.  

Learn or update caregiving skills. Being thrust into the role of caregiver doesn’t come with an instruction manual, but there are books, workshops, and online training resources that can teach you the skills you need. Learn all you can about symptoms, treatment, and behavior management. As the disease progresses and challenges change, you’ll need to update your skillset and find new ways of coping.

Join a support group. You’ll find that you’re not alone and you’ll be able to learn from the experiences of others who have faced the same challenges. Connecting with others who know first-hand what you’re going through can also help reduce feelings of isolation, fear, and hopelessness.

Learn how to manage stress. Caregiving for a loved one with dementia can be one of the most stressful tasks you’ll undertake in life. To combat this stress, you need to activate your body’s natural relaxation response through techniques such as deep breathing, meditation, rhythmic exercise, or yoga. Fitting these activities into your life can help reduce the stress of caregiving and boost your mood and energy levels.

Make use of available resources. There are a wealth of community and online resources to help you prioritize your efforts and provide effective care. Start by finding the Alzheimer’s association in your country. These organizations offer practical support, helplines, advice, and training for caregivers and their families. They can also put you in touch with local support groups. See Resources and References section below for a directory of associations.

Plan for your own care. Visit your doctor for regular checkups and pay attention to the signs and symptoms of excessive stress. It’s easy to abandon the people and activities you love when you’re mired in caregiving, but you risk your health and peace of mind by doing so. Take time away from caregiving to maintain friendships, social contacts, and professional networks, and pursue the hobbies and interests that bring you joy.

Signs of Caregiver Stress and Burnout

No matter how strong and resilient you are, you’re still likely to have problems with certain aspects of Alzheimer’s or dementia care. The stress of day-to-day care, watching your loved one’s health deteriorate, and having to make difficult decisions about long-term care can leave anyone feeling overwhelmed and exhausted. Recognizing the signs of caregiver stress and burnout is the first step to dealing with the problem.

10 Signs of Caregiver Stress

If you experience any of these signs of stress on a regular basis, make time to talk to your doctor.

1. Denial about the disease and its effect on the person who has been diagnosed. “I know Mom is going to get better.”

2. Anger at the person with Alzheimer’s, anger that no cure exists, or anger that people don’t understand what’s happening. “If he asks me that one more time I’ll scream!”

3. Social withdrawal from friends and activities that once brought pleasure. “I don’t care about getting together with the neighbors anymore.”

4. Anxiety about the future. “What happens when he needs more care than I can provide?”

5. Depression that begins to break your spirit and affects your ability to cope. “I don’t care anymore.”

6. Exhaustion that makes it nearly impossible to complete necessary daily tasks. “I’m too tired for this.”

7. Sleeplessness caused by a never-ending list of concerns. “What if she wanders out of the house or falls and hurts herself?”

8. Irritability that leads to moodiness and triggers negative responses and actions. “Leave me alone!”

9. Lack of concentration that makes it difficult to perform familiar tasks. “I was so busy, I forgot we had an appointment.”

10. Health problems that begin to take a mental and physical toll. “I can’t remember the last time I felt good.”

Source: Alzheimer’s Association

When prolonged and excessive stress from caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s or dementia leaves you feeling emotionally, mentally, and physically exhausted, you may be facing burnout. Burnout reduces your productivity and saps your energy, leaving you feeling helpless, hopeless, angry, and resentful. Eventually, you may feel like you have nothing more to give.

The warning signs of caregiver burnout include:

  • Excessive stress and tension
  • Debilitating depression
  • Persistent anxiety, anger, or guilt
  • Extreme irritability or anger with the dementia patient
  • Decreased overall life satisfaction
  • Relationship conflicts and social isolation
  • Lower immunity and greater need for healthcare services
  • Excessive use of medications, drugs, or alcohol

Burnout can damage your health and the health of the person you’re caring for, so if you recognize the signs, it’s important to take action right away.

Coping with Stress and Burnout

No matter the day-to-day demands of caregiving for a patient with Alzheimer’s or dementia, it’s imperative that you carve out time for your own self-care. These tips can help:

Seek regular respite care. You cannot do it all alone. Ask other family members, friends, or members of your place of worship for help with respite care so you can get a much needed break. You can also seek help from volunteer organizations, support groups, day care programs, and residential respite care facilities. Schedule frequent breaks throughout the day, take time out to pursue hobbies and interests, and stay on top of your own health needs. Seek professional help if you recognize you’re exhibiting any warning signs of caregiver burnout.

Get moving.  Regular exercise not only keeps you fit, it releases endorphins that can really boost your mood. Aim for at least 30 minutes of exercise on most days. If it’s difficult to get away for that long at once, break the time up into 10 minute sessions sprinkled throughout the day. Take a walk or jog outside, dance to your favorite music, work out to an exercise DVD, or cycle to the store. Taking a group exercise class or working out with friends can give you a valuable social outlet as well.

Talk to someone. Talk to a trusted friend, family member, clergy member, or therapist, about how you feel and what you’re going through. The person you talk to doesn’t have to be able to solve your problems, he or she just has to be a good listener. The simple act of talking face-to-face with someone who cares can be extremely cathartic. Opening up won’t make you a burden to others. In fact, most friends will be flattered that you trust them enough to confide in them, and it will only strengthen your bond.

Take time to play. In the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease, include your loved one in short walks, board games, or jigsaw puzzles. Join an online scrabble tournament, practice your golf swing, or play with a pet. A daily dose of fun is good medicine, and doesn’t require money, a car, or huge blocks of time.

Try something new. Challenge yourself to learn a new skill while you are “on the job.” Order a self-paced foreign language program or try an exercise video game. From tennis to golf to pitching a strike, so-called “exergames” offer living room-friendly activities for every age and skill level. With just a few minutes of practice each day, you can flex mental muscle and relieve harmful stress.

See the funny side. Humor is a well-known antidote to stress, sadness, illness, and boredom. Give yourself permission to chuckle at the absurdities you and your loved one experience, and surround yourself with laughter. Instead of heavy dramas on TV or video, go for a hearty belly laugh by watching episodes of your favorite sitcom. Your infectious good mood can help replenish your inner resources and sooth your loved one.

Making Time for Reflection Can Help with Acceptance

One of the biggest challenges as a caretaker for someone with Alzheimer’s or dementia is to accept what is happening to your loved one. At each new stage of the disease, you have to alter your expectations about what your loved one is capable of. By accepting each new reality and taking time to reflect on these changes, you can better cope with the emotional loss, and deepen the feelings of satisfaction and love in your role as caretaker.

Keep a daily journal to record and reflect on your experiences. By journaling your thoughts, you can mourn losses, celebrate successes, and look for those thought patterns that keep you from acting in the present.

Count your blessings. A daily gratitude list can chase away the blues and let you focus on what your loved one is still capable of, rather than the abilities he or she has lost.

Celebrate what is possible. Your loved one still has many abilities. Structure activities to invite participation on whatever level is possible, and you will both find real enjoyment.

Try to envision your loved one’s world. Imagine not being able to remember and do life’s simple tasks. By valuing what your loved one is able to give, you can find satisfaction on even the toughest days.

Practice relaxation techniques. Meditation, deep breathing, visualization, mindfulness, yoga, or rhythmic exercise can calm, restore, and promote happiness. Experiment with different techniques to find the ones that work best for you.

Improve emotional awareness. Remaining engaged, focused, and calm in the midst of such tremendous responsibility can challenge even the most capable caregivers. By developing your emotional awareness skills, however, you can relieve stress, experience positive emotions, and bring new peace and clarity to your caretaking role.

Tap into the rewards of connecting with the person you’re caring for

Even when the person you’re caring for can no longer verbally express love or appreciation, you can find a deeper sense of reward in your role as caregiver by making time each day to really connect with the person. Avoid all distractions and focus fully on the person. Make eye contact (if that’s possible), hold the person’s hand or stroke his or her cheek, and talk in a calm, reassuring tone of voice. When you connect in this way, you’ll experience a process that boosts your mood, reduces stress, and supports your physical and emotional well-being. And it can also have the same effect on your loved one.

How to Help an Alzheimer’s or Dementia Caregiver

If a friend or family member is caring for someone with Alzheimer’s or dementia, it’s important to offer all the help and support you can.

Don’t wait to be asked to help. Many caregivers find it difficult to ask others for help, no matter how much they may need it, so make the offer. And when you do, be specific. As well as simply asking, “What can I do to help?” make suggestions like, “I’m free tomorrow afternoon, can I sit with the patient while you take a break?” or “What can I get you from the grocery store today?” Helping out with even the most simple or mundane chores can free the caregiver up to spend more quality time with the patient or take a break to recharge his or her batteries.

Be a friend. Caregivers are prone to withdrawing from family and friends but they still need regular contact with the outside world. Phone calls, texts, or emails are fine, but nothing beats a personal visit to lift a caregiver’s mood. Again, don’t wait to be asked; be the one to reach out.

Be a good listener. Venting frustrations about caregiving can be a great stress reliever. Listen to the caregiver’s fears and concerns without judging.

Show your gratitude. If the caregiver is a sibling looking after your parent, for example, it’s important to express your gratitude. The person with mid- or late-stage Alzheimer’s or dementia may not able to show appreciation to the caretaker so it’s important other family members recognize the caregiver’s hard work and sacrifice and regularly show their appreciation. While a card or a simple “Thank you” can go a long way, when accompanied by the offer of some respite, it can be a blessing.

Recognize the signs of caregiver stress and encourage the caregiver to focus more on his or her own health and well-being.

Related Articles

Caregiver Stress and Burnout: Tips for Regaining Your Energy, Optimism, and Hope

Family Caregiving: Tips for Making Family Caregiving Easier and More Rewarding

Living with Dementia: Coping Tips & Strategies for Both You and Your Family

Care for the Caregiver: Part 1 (Video)

Care for the Caregiver: Part 2 (Video)

Dementia care specialist Teepa Snow discusses the fear of dementia and dealing with the challenges of caring for a loved one. (YouTube/Senior Helpers National)

Caregiver Support

Alzheimer’s Associations – A worldwide directory of Alzheimer’s associations that offer information, advice, and support for caregivers. (Alzheimer’s Disease International)

Family Care Navigator – For caregivers in the U.S., a state-by-state resource to help you locate services and other resources. (Family Caregiver Alliance)

Caregiver Action Plan – Create a personalized action plan for caregiving and link to information, support, and local resources. (Alzheimer’s Association)

Alzheimer’s Caregiving: How to Ask for Help – Suggestions on how to engage family and friends in helping out with patient care. (Mayo Clinic)

Caregiver’s Stress Check – Tests your stress and provides recommendations for addressing common caregiver’s issues. (Alzheimer’s Association)

Caregivers and Mental Health

Depression and Caregiving – Describes the symptoms of caregiver depression and offers suggestions on what to do for yourself if you are depressed as a result of caregiving. (Family Caregiver Alliance)

Dementia, Caregiving and Controlling Frustration – Discusses causes of frustration, warning signs that frustration is occurring, and several methods caregivers can use to help control or alleviate their frustrations. (Family Caregiver Alliance)

Changes to Your Relationship – Information about how the caregiver’s relationships may change: intimacy with the patient, and closeness to family and friends, with tips for resolving family conflicts. (Alzheimer’s Association)

Preventing Caregiver Burnout

Preventing Caregiver Burnout – Caregiver burnout is something you may not notice, but people you know may notice changes in you and express their concern. (Area Agency on Aging)

 PDF version


Authors: Lawrence Robinson, Melissa S. Wayne, M.A. and Jeanne Segal, Ph.D. Last updated: October 2017.

© All rights reserved.


What You May Feel about Being a Family Caregiver: Tips for Making it Easier

( As a family caregiver for an ailing parent, child, spouse, or other loved one, you’re likely to face a host of new responsibilities, many of which are unfamiliar or intimidating. At times, you may feel overwhelmed and alone. But despite its challenges, caregiving can also be extremely rewarding. And there are a lot of things you can do to make the caregiving process easier and more pleasurable for both you and your loved one. These tips can help you get the support you need while caring for someone you love in way that can benefit both of you.

What is Family Caregiving?

As life expectancies increase, medical treatments advance, and increasing numbers of people live with chronic illness and disabilities, more and more of us find ourselves caring for a loved one at home. Whether you’re taking care of an aging parent, a handicapped spouse, or looking after a child with a physical or mental illness, providing care for a family member in need is an act of kindness, love, and loyalty. Day after day, you gift your loved one your care and attention, improving their quality of life, even if they’re unable to express their gratitude.

Regardless of your particular circumstances, being a family caregiver is a challenging role and likely one that you haven’t been trained to undertake. And like many family caregivers, you probably never anticipated you’d be in this situation. However, you don’t have to be a nursing expert, a superhero, or a saint in order to be a good family caregiver. With the right help and support, you can be an effective, loving caregiver without having to sacrifice yourself in the process. And that can make family caregiving a more rewarding experience—for both you and your loved one.

New to Family Caregiving?

Learn as much as you can about your family member’s illness or disability and about how to be a caregiver. The more you know, the less anxiety you’ll feel about your new role and the more effective you’ll be.

Seek out other caregivers. It helps to know you’re not alone. It’s comforting to give and receive support from others who understand exactly what you’re going through.

Trust your instincts. Remember, you know your family member best. Don’t ignore what doctors and specialists tell you, but listen to your gut, too.

Encourage your loved one’s independence. Caregiving does not mean doing everything for your loved one. Be open to technologies and strategies that allow your family member to be as independent as possible.

Know your limits. Be realistic about how much of your time and yourself you can give. Set clear limits, and communicate those limits to doctors, family members, and other people involved.

Tip 1: Accept your Feelings

Caregiving can trigger a host of difficult emotions, including anger, fear, resentment, guilt, helplessness, and grief. It’s important to acknowledge and accept what you’re feeling, both good and bad. Don’t beat yourself up over your doubts and misgivings. These feelings don’t mean that you don’t love your family member—they simply mean you’re human.

What you may feel about being a family caregiver

  • Anxiety and worry – You may worry about how you will handle the additional responsibilities of caregiving and what will happen to your family member if something happens to you. You may also fear what will happen in the future as your loved one’s illness
  • Anger or resentment – You may feel angry or resentful toward the person you’re caring for, even though you know it’s irrational. Or you might be angry at the world in general, or resentful of other friends or family members who don’t have your responsibilities.
  • Guilt – You may feel guilty for not doing more, being a “better” caregiver, having more patience, accepting your situation with more equanimity, or in the case of long distance caregiving, not being available more often.
  • Grief – There are many losses that can come with caregiving (the healthy future you envisioned with your spouse or child; the goals and dreams you’ve had to set aside). If the person you’re caring for is terminally ill, you’re also dealing with that grief.

Even when you understand why you’re feeling the way you do, it can still be upsetting. In order to deal with your feelings, it’s important to talk about them. Don’t keep your emotions bottled up, but find at least one person you trust to confide in, someone who’ll listen to you without interruption or judgment.

Tip 2: Find Caregiver Support

Even if you’re the primary family caregiver, you can’t do everything on your own, especially if you’re caregiving from a distance (more than an hour’s drive from your family member). You’ll need help from friends, siblings, and other family members, as well as health professionals. If you don’t get the support you need, you’ll quickly burn out—which will compromise your ability to provide care.

But before you can ask for help, you need to have a clear understanding of your family member’s needs. Take some time to list all the caregiving tasks required, being as specific as possible. Then determine which activities you are able to meet (be realistic about your capabilities and the time you have available). The remaining tasks on the list are ones you’ll need to ask others to help you with.

Asking family and friends for help

It’s not always easy to ask for help, even when you desperately need it. Perhaps you’re afraid to impose on others or worried that your request will be resented or rejected. But if you simply make your needs known, you may be pleasantly surprised by the willingness of others to pitch in. Many times, friends and family members want to help, but don’t know how. Make it easier for them:

  • Set aside one-on-one time to talk to the person
  • Go over the list of caregiving needs you previously drew up
  • Point out areas in which they might be of service (maybe your brother is good at Internet research, or your friend is a financial whiz)
  • Ask the person if they’d like to help, and if so, in what way
  • Make sure the person understands what would be most helpful to both you and the caregiving recipient

Other places you can turn for caregiver support include:

  • Your church, temple, or other place of worship
  • Caregiver support groups at a local hospital or online
  • A therapist, social worker, or counselor
  • National caregiver organizations
  • Organizations specific to your family member’s illness or disability

Tip 3: Really Connect with Your Loved One

Pablo Casals, the world-renowned cellist, said, “The capacity to care is the thing that gives life its deepest significance and meaning.” When done in the right way, caring for a loved one can bring pleasure—to both you, the caregiver, and to the person you’re caring for. Being calm and relaxed and taking the time each day to really connect with the person you’re caring for can release hormones that boost your mood, reduce stress, and trigger biological changes that improve your physical health. And it has the same effect on your loved one, too.

Even if the person you’re caring for can no longer communicate verbally, it’s important to take a short time to focus fully on him or her. Avoid all distractions—such as the TV, cell phone, and computer—make eye contact (if that’s possible), hold the person’s hand or stroke their cheek, and talk in a calm, reassuring tone of voice. When you connect in this way, you’ll experience a process that lowers stress and supports physical and emotional well-being—for both of you—and you’ll experience the “deepest significance and meaning” that Casals talks about.

Tip 4: Attend to Your Own Needs

If you’re distracted, burned out, or otherwise overwhelmed by the daily grind of caregiving, you’ll likely find connecting to the person you’re caring for difficult. That’s why it’s vital that while  you’re caring for your loved one, you don’t forget about your own needs. Caregivers need care, too.

Emotional needs of family caregivers
Take time to relax daily and learn how to regulate yourself and de-stress when you start to feel overwhelmed. As explained above, one way to do that is by really connecting with the person you’re caring for. If that isn’t possible, employ your senses to effectively relieve stress in the moment and return yourself to a balanced state.
Talk with someone to make sense of your situation and your feelings. There’s no better way of relieving stress than spending time face-to-face with someone who cares about you.
Keep a journal. Some people find it helpful to write down their thoughts and feelings to help them see things more clearly.
Feed your spirit. Pray, meditate, or do another activity that makes you feel part of something greater. Try to find meaning in both your life and in your role as a caregiver.
Watch out for signs of depression, anxiety, or burnout and get professional help if needed.
Social and recreational needs of family caregivers
Stay social. Make it a priority to visit regularly with other people. Nurture your close relationships. Don’t let yourself become isolated.
Do things you enjoy. Laughter and joy can help keep you going when you face trials, stress, and pain.
Maintain balance in your life. Don’t give up activities that are important to you, such as your work or your hobbies.
Give yourself a break. Take regular breaks from caregiving, and give yourself an extended break at least once a week.
Find a community. Join or reestablish your connection to a religious group, social club, or civic organization. The broader your support network, the better.
Physical needs of family caregivers
Exercise regularly. Try to get in at least 30 minutes of exercise, three times per week. Exercise is a great way to relieve stress and boost your energy. So get moving, even if you’re tired.
Eat right. Well-nourished bodies are better prepared to cope with stress and get through busy days. Keep your energy up and your mind clear by eating nutritious meals at regular times throughout the day.
Avoid alcohol and drugs. It can be tempting to turn to substances for escape when life feels overwhelming, but they can easily compromise the quality of your caregiving. Instead, try dealing with problems head on and with a clear mind.
Get enough sleep. Aim for an average of eight hours of solid, uninterrupted sleep every night. Otherwise, your energy level, productivity, and ability to handle stress will suffer.
Keep up with your own health care. Go to the doctor and dentist on schedule, and keep up with your own prescriptions or medical therapy. As a caregiver, you need to stay as strong and healthy as possible.


Tip 5: Take Advantage of Community Services

There are services to help caregivers in most communities. Depending on where you live, the cost may be based on ability to pay or covered by the care receiver’s insurance. Services that may be available in your community include adult day care centers, home health aides, home-delivered meals, respite care, transportation services, and skilled nursing.

Caregiver services in your community. Call your local senior center, county information and referral service, family services, or hospital social work unit for contact suggestions. Advocacy groups for the disorder your loved one’s suffering from may also be able to recommend local services. In the U.S., contact your local Area Agency on Aging for help with caring for older family members.

Caregiver support for veterans. If your care recipient is a veteran in the U.S., home health care coverage, financial support, nursing home care, and adult day care benefits may be available. Some Veterans Administration programs are free, while others require co-payments, depending upon the veteran’s status, income, and other criteria.

Your family member’s affiliations. Fraternal organizations such as the Elks, Eagles, or Moose lodges may offer some assistance if your loved one is a longtime dues-paying member. This help may take the form of phone check-ins, home visits, or transportation.

Community transportation services. Many communities offer free or low-cost transportation services for trips to and from medical appointments, day care, senior centers, and shopping malls.

Adult day care. If your senior loved one is well enough, consider the possibility of adult day care. An adult day care center can provide you with needed breaks during the day or week, and your loved one with some valuable diversions and activities.

Personal care services. Help with activities of daily living, such as dressing, bathing, feeding, or meal preparation may be provided by home care aides, hired companions, certified nurse’s aides, or home health aides. Home health aides might also provide limited assistance with things such as taking blood pressure or offering medication reminders.

Health care services. Some health care services can be provided at home by trained professionals such as physical or occupational therapists, social workers, or home health nurses. Check with your insurance or health service to see what kind of coverage is available. Hospice care can also be provided at home.

Meal programs. Your loved one may be eligible to have hot meals delivered at home by a Meals on Wheels program. Religious and other local organizations sometimes offer free lunches and companionship for the sick and elderly.

Tip 6: Provide Long-distance Care

Many people take on the role of designated caregiver for a family member—often an older relative or sibling—while living more than an hour’s travel away. Trying to manage a loved one’s care from a distance can add to feelings of guilt and anxiety and present many other obstacles. But there are steps you can take to prepare for caregiving emergencies and ease the burden of responsibility.

Set up an alarm system for your loved one. Because of the distance between you, you won’t be able to respond in time to a life-threatening emergency, so subscribe to an electronic alert system. Your loved one wears the small device and can use it to summon immediate help.

Manage doctor and medical appointments. Try to schedule all medical appointments together, at a time when you’ll be in the area. Make the time to get to know your loved one’s doctors and arrange to be kept up-to-date on all medical issues via the phone when you’re not in the area. Your relative may need to sign a privacy release to enable their doctors to do this.

Use a case manager. Some hospitals or insurance plans can assign case managers to coordinate your loved one’s care, monitor his or her progress, manage billing, and communicate with the family.

Investigate local services. When you’re not there, try to find local services that can offer home help services, deliver meals, or provide local transportation for your loved one. A geriatric care manager can offer a variety of services to long-distance caregivers, including providing and monitoring in-home help for your relative.

Schedule regular communication with your loved one. A daily email, text message, or quick phone call can let your relative know that they’re not forgotten and give you peace of mind.

Arrange telephone check-ins from a local religious group, senior center, or other public or nonprofit organization. These services offer prescheduled calls to homebound older adults to reduce their isolation and monitor their well-being.

Related articles

Caregiver Stress and Burnout: Tips for Regaining Your Energy, Optimism, and Hope

Tips for Alzheimer’s Caregivers: Preparing for the Road Ahead and Getting the Help You Need

Stress Management: Using Self-Help Techniques for Dealing with Stress

Resources and References

Caregiver support services in the U.S.

Caregiving Resource Center – Tools, work sheets and tips on how to plan, prepare and succeed as a caregiver. (AARP)

Find Help in Your Community – Connects families to community-based resources for senior care. (Eldercare Locator)

Searching for Caregiver Information – Covers a wide range of issues, from how to talk to an attorney to federal and state legislation related to caregiving. (Family Caregiver Alliance)

For Family Caregivers: Guides and Checklists – Helps family caregivers of chronically or seriously ill patients navigate home care and the health care system. (Next Step in Care)

Family Caregiver Toolbox – Tips and information to help caregivers care for their loved ones and themselves. (Caregiver Action Network)

Find Aging Resources in Your Area – Portal for options that allow people to choose home and community-based services and living arrangements that suit them best. (National Association of Area Agencies on Aging)

Healthfinder – Find health care and other services near you. (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services)

Caregiver support services in other countries

Your Guide to Care and Support – NHS services available to UK carers of disabled children and adults, including respite care. (NHS)

Find Care and Support – A guide to understanding how to get care and support for seniors in the UK. (Age UK)

Carers – For Australian residents, provides information and support services for older people, people with disabilities and those who provide care and services. (Australian Government)

My Aged Care – Information on contacts and services available to assist you with ageing and aged care issues in Australia, including home care services for seniors. (Australian Government Depart of Health and Ageing)

Carers New Zealand – Offers help and advice for New Zealand carers, including guidance on respite care services. (Carers NZ)

Resources for Seniors – Information on services for seniors in Canada, including in-home support. (Government of Canada)

Meals on Wheels in the U.S.

Meals on Wheels: Find a U.S. Program – A searchable database that allows you to find a Meals on Wheels program in your area of the U.S. (Meals on Wheels Association of America)

Meals on Wheels in other countries

Meals at Home Services (UK) – In the UK, find out if you qualify to receive meals delivered to your home and access a directory of providers in your area. (Directgov)

Meals on Wheels Australia – Find your local Meals on Wheels service in Australia. (Meals on Wheels Australia)

Find a Meals on Wheels Location in Canada – Find a Meals on Wheels and other senior meal programs in your area of Canada. (MealCall)

Long-distance caregiving

Caring From a Distance – An organization for long-distance caregivers in the U.S., providing service directories and helplines. (


Authors: Melinda Smith, M.A. and Jeanne Segal, Ph.D. Last updated: October 2017.



Dementia, Caregiving, and Controlling Frustration

(Family Caregiver Alliance) Caring for an individual with Alzheimerʼs disease or a related dementia can be challenging and, at times, overwhelming. Frustration is a normal and valid emotional response to many of the difficulties of being a caregiver. While some irritation may be part of everyday life as a caregiver, feeling extreme frustration can have serious consequences for you or the person you care for.

Frustration and stress may negatively impact your physical health or cause you to be physically or verbally aggressive towards your loved one. If your caregiving situation is causing you extreme frustration or anger, you may want to explore some new techniques for coping.

When you are frustrated, it is important to distinguish between what is and what is not within your power to change. Frustration often arises out of trying to change an uncontrollable circumstance. As a caregiver of someone with dementia, you face many uncontrollable situations.

Normal daily activities—dressing, bathing, and eating—may become sources of deep frustration for you. Behaviors often associated with dementia, like wandering or asking questions repeatedly, can be frustrating for caregivers but are uncontrollable behaviors for people with dementia. Unfortunately, you cannot simply change the behavior of a person suffering from dementia.

When dealing with an uncontrollable circumstance, you do control one thing: how you respond to that circumstance.

In order to respond without extreme frustration, you will need to:

  • Learn to recognize the warnings signs of frustration.
  • Intervene to calm yourself down physically.
  • Modify your thoughts in a way that reduces your stress.
  • Learn to communicate assertively.
  • Learn to ask for help.

Warning Signs of Frustration

If you can recognize the warning signs of frustration, you can intervene and adjust your mood before you lose control. Some of the common warning signs of frustration include:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Knot in the throat
  • Stomach cramps
  • Chest pains
  • Headache
  • Compulsive eating
  • Excessive alcohol consumption
  • Increased smoking
  • Lack of patience
  • Desire to strike out

Calming Down Physically

When you become aware of the warning signs of frustration, you can intervene with an immediate activity to help you calm down. This gives you time to look at the situation more objectively and to choose how to respond in a more controlled way.

When you feel yourself becoming frustrated, try counting from one to ten slowly and taking a few deep breaths. If you are able, take a brief walk or go to another room and collect your thoughts. It is better to leave the situation, even for a moment, than to lose control or react in a way you will regret.

If you think someone may be offended when you leave the room, you can tell that person you need to go to the restroom. You can also try calling a friend, praying, meditating, singing, listening to music, or taking a bath. Try experimenting with different responses to find out what works best for you and the person you care for.

The regular practice of relaxation techniques can also help prepare you for frustrating circumstances. If possible, try the following relaxation exercise for at least ten minutes each day:

Sit in a comfortable position in a quiet place. Take slow, deep breaths and relax the tension in your body. While you continue to take slow, deep breaths, you may want to imagine a safe and restful place and repeat a calming word or phrase.

Modifying Your Thoughts

As you take time out to collect your thoughts, try rethinking your situation in ways that reduce frustration. How you think often affects how you feel. Of course, feelings of frustration arise from difficult circumstances. If, however, you analyze your response to a frustrating situation, you will usually find some form of maladaptive—or negative—thinking that has the effect of increasing your frustration, preventing you from looking at your situation objectively, or finding a better way to deal with it.

Below are six major types of unhelpful thought patterns common among caregivers. Following each unhelpful thought pattern is an example of an adaptive—or more helpful—thought that can be used as self-defense against frustration. Familiarizing yourself with the unhelpful thought patterns and the adaptive responses can help you control your frustration.


You take one negative situation or characteristic and multiply it. For example, youʼre getting ready to take the person in your care to a doctorʼs appointment when you discover the car battery has died. You then conclude, “This always happens; something always goes wrong.”

Adaptive response: “This does not happen all the time. Usually my car is working just fine. At times things donʼt happen the way I would like, but sometimes they do.”

Discounting the Positive

You overlook the good things about your circumstances and yourself. For example, you might not allow yourself to feel good about caregiving by thinking, “I could do more” or “anyone could do what I do.”

Adaptive response: “Caregiving is not easy. It takes courage, strength, and compassion to do what I do. I am not always perfect, but I do a lot and I am trying to be helpful.”

Jumping to Conclusions

You reach a conclusion without having all the facts. You might do this in two ways:

  1. Mindreading: We assume that others are thinking negative thoughts about us. For example, a friend doesnʼt return a phone call, and we assume that he or she is ignoring us or doesnʼt want to talk to us.Adaptive response: “I donʼt know what my friend is thinking. For all I know, she didnʼt get the message. Maybe she is busy or just forgot. If I want to know what she is thinking, I will have to ask her.”
  2. Fortune-telling: You predict a negative outcome in the future. For example, you will not try adult day care because you assume the person in your care will not enjoy it. You think, “He will never do that. Not a chance!”Adaptive response: “I cannot predict the future. I donʼt think he is going to like it, but I wonʼt know for sure unless I try.”

“Should” Statements

You try to motivate yourself using statements such as “I should call Mother more often” or “I shouldnʼt go to a movie because Mom might need me.” What you think you “should” do is in conflict with what you want to do. You end up feeling guilty, depressed, or frustrated.

Adaptive response: “I would like to go to a movie. Itʼs okay for me to take a break from caregiving and enjoy myself. I will ask a friend or neighbor to check in on Mom.”


You identify yourself or other people with one characteristic or action. For example, you put off doing the laundry and think, “I am lazy.”

Adaptive response: “I am not lazy. Sometimes I donʼt do as much as I could, but that doesn’t mean I am lazy. I often work hard and do the best that I can. Even I need a break sometimes.”


You take responsibility for a negative occurrence that is beyond your control. For example, you might blame yourself when the person in your care requires hospitalization or placement in a facility.

Adaptive response: “Momʼs condition has gotten to the point where I can no longer take care of her myself. It is her condition and not my shortcomings that require her to be in a nursing home.”

Using the “Triple-Column Technique”
Unhelpful thought patterns are usually ingrained reactions or habits. To modify your negative thoughts, you will have to learn to recognize them, know why they are false, and talk back to them.

One helpful way to practice using more adaptive thinking processes is to use the “triple-column technique.” Draw two lines down the center of a piece of paper to divide the paper into thirds. When you are feeling frustrated, take a personal “time out” and write your negative thoughts in the first column.

In the second column, try to identify the type of unhelpful pattern from the six examples above. In the third column, talk back to your negative thoughts with a more positive point of view. See below for examples.

Negative Thoughts
Thought Patterns
Adaptive Thoughts
(Caregiver burns dinner.) “I canʼt do anything right!” Overgeneralization Iʼm not perfect, but nobody is perfect. Sometimes I make mistakes, and sometimes I do things well.
(Caregiver has coffee with a friend and spouse has accident at home.) “Iʼm selfish and rotten! If I had been home, he wouldnʼt have fallen.” Labeling; personalizing Iʼm not selfish or rotten. I do a lot to take care of my husband, but I need to take care of myself as well. He might have fallen even if I had been home.
(Brother does not show up to take your Dad to the doctor.) “I knew I couldnʼt trust him. I should just do it myself next time.” Jumping to conclusions; should statements I donʼt know why he didn’t come, but I need his help, so weʼll have to find ways for him to share the burden of Dadʼs care.


Communicating Assertively

Good communication can reduce frustration by allowing you to express yourself while helping others to understand your limits and needs. Assertive communication is different from passive or aggressive communication. When you communicate passively, you may be keeping your own needs and desires inside to avoid conflict with others. While this may seem easier on the surface, the long-term result may be that others feel they can push you around to get their way.

When you communicate aggressively, you may be forcing your needs and desires onto others. While this allows you to express your feelings, aggressive communication generally makes others more defensive and less cooperative.

When you communicate assertively, you express your own needs and desires while respecting the needs and desires of others. Assertive communication allows both parties to engage in a dignified discussion about the issue at hand.

Keys to assertive communication are:

  • Respecting your own feelings, needs, and desires.
  • Standing up for your feelings without shaming, degrading, or humiliating the other person.
  • Using “I” statements rather than “you” statements. For example, say, “I need a break” or “I would like to talk to you and work this out” instead of “You are irresponsible” or “You never help out!”
  • Not using “should” statements. For example, say, “Itʼs important to me that promises be kept,” instead of “You should keep your promise.”

The Critical Step: Asking for Help

You cannot take on all the responsibilities of caregiving by yourself. It is essential that you ask for and accept help. Discuss your needs with family members and friends who might be willing to share caregiving responsibilities. People will not realize you need help if you do not explain your situation and ask for assistance. Remember, you have the right to ask for help and express your needs.

When to say Yes

Donʼt be afraid to say “Yes” if someone offers to help. Say “Yes” at the moment a person offers to help rather than saying “Maybe” and waiting until you are in a fix. Have a list handy of errands or tasks you need help with. Keep in mind that people feel useful and gratified when they are able to help others.

When to say No

Often, caregivers are pulled in multiple directions. In addition to the demands of caregiving, you may feel compelled to meet the demands of your immediate and extended family, your friends, and your employer. Learn how to say “No” to the demands of others when you are overwhelmed or need a break. It is your right to say “No” to extra demands on your time without feeling guilty.

Learning Effective Communication Techniques for Dementia Caregiving

Many families find it frustrating to communicate with a loved one who has dementia. The person with dementia may repeat questions over and over or mistake you for someone else. It is important to remember that the person with dementia cannot control behavior caused by their disease. They do not need to be corrected or grounded in “reality.” You can distract them or just agree with them as a way to reduce your frustration.

It can be helpful, however, to learn more about dementia and effective communication techniques which will ease your frustration. For example, use simple, direct statements, and place yourself close when speaking to a person with a cognitive disorder. Try not to argue about unimportant things such as what the date is. Allow extra time to accomplish tasks such as dressing. Remember, people with dementia often react more to our feelings than to our words. Finding ways to be calm can help you to gain cooperation. See FCAʼs fact sheet Caregiver’s Guide to Understanding Dementia Behaviors for more helpful strategies.

Self-Care to Prevent Frustration

Caregiving can be tiring and stressful. When youʼre caring for others, itʼs easy to forget to care for yourself. While it may be difficult to find time to focus on yourself and your needs, it is very important that you do so to prevent frustration and burnout. FCAʼs Fact Sheet: Taking Care of YOU: Self-Care for Caregivers offers additional information.

Here are three steps to taking better care of YOU:

Make Time for Yourself

You may feel guilty about needing or wanting time out for rest, socialization, and fun. However, everyone deserves regular and ongoing breaks from work, including caregivers. “Respite” providers can give you the opportunity to take the breaks you need. Respite breaks may be provided by in-home help, adult day care, “friendly visitor” programs, friends and neighbors, or other means. The important point is to allow yourself to take a break from caregiving. See Resources at the end of this fact sheet for organizations that might help you give yourself time off from caregiving.

Take Care of Yourself

Although caregiving may make it difficult to find time for yourself, it is important to eat well, exercise, get a good nightʼs sleep, and attend to your own medical needs.

When you do not take care of yourself, you are prone to increased anxiety, depression, frustration, and physical distress that will make it more difficult to continue providing care.

Seek Outside Support

Sharing your feelings with a counselor, pastor, a support group, or with another caregiver in a similar situation can be a great way to release stress and get helpful advice. You may want to contact the organizations under Resources at the end of this fact sheet, or look in the community services section at the front of the Yellow Pages, under Counseling or Senior Services, to find services to help you get some caregiver support. The FCA fact sheet on Community Care Options also offers information.


Family Caregiver Alliance  
National Center on Caregiving
(415) 434-3388 (800) 445-8106
Email: (link sends e-mail)
FCA CareJourney:
Family Care Navigator:

Family Caregiver Alliance (FCA) seeks to improve the quality of life for caregivers through education, services, research, and advocacy. Through its National Center on Caregiving, FCA offers information on current social, public policy, and caregiving issues and provides assistance in the development of public and private programs for caregivers. For residents of the greater San Francisco Bay Area, FCA provides direct support services for caregivers of those with Alzheimerʼs disease, stroke, traumatic brain injury, Parkinsonʼs, and other debilitating disorders that strike adults.

FCA Fact and Tip Sheets

A listing of all facts and tips is available online at

Caregiver’s Guide to Understanding Dementia Behaviors
Hiring In-Home Help
Taking Care of YOU: Self-Care for Family Caregivers
Caregiving at Home: A Guide to Community Resources

Other Organizations and Links

Alzheimer’s Association (link is external)

National Volunteer Caregiving Network (link is external)
Visit website to find volunteer caregiving assistance.

ARCH National Respite Network and Resource Center (link is external)
Visit website to find local respite providers.

Eldercare Locator (link is external)
Visit website or call to find your local Area Agency on Aging and services for the elderly and caregivers, including respite care providers.


Copyright © 1996–2017 Family Caregiver Alliance.


8 Rules for New Caregivers

(AARP) New to Caregiving?  Here are some suggestions for getting started.

1. Start with a candid conversation. Talk with your parents about how you will be helping them to meet their needs. Unless they are severely incapacitated, they should continue to make their own decisions and remain a central part of all discussions about their care. Encourage them to articulate their concerns: Most likely, your parents are worried about becoming a burden and losing control of their lives. Have an open conversation about what role your parents want you to play. Establish limits so they don’t form unrealistic expectations.

2. Set your priorities. Make a list of what needs to get done and how you plan to do it. An organized approach puts you in control, reduces stress and ensures that your parents get the assistance they need. Be sure to create backup plans, and ask others to serve as reinforcements if necessary. Write down your plans and schedules, and give a copy to all involved family members. Consider using an online scheduling tool such as Lotsa Helping Hands to organize and keep track of who’s doing what, when.

3. Build a support network. In most families, one person assumes the role of primary caregiver. But that doesn’t let others off the hook. Enlist the help of your siblings, of course, but also consider that cousins, nieces and nephews may be eager to help. Don’t forget to include your friends, distant relatives, neighbors and acquaintances, such as members of your parents’ civic or religious groups. Not all of these folks will volunteer to help, but many will get involved if you ask. Some, in fact, may feel hurt or left out if you don’t seek their assistance.

4. Don’t be afraid to delegate. Ask a friend to pick up groceries or get books from the library, a neighbor’s child to adopt your parent as a grandparent, or a local teenager to help with yard work for a manageable fee. Investigate whether a civic group can provide free home repair or transportation services. Ask the newspaper carrier, a barber or an apartment superintendent to keep an eye out for your parents and to call you if anything seems wrong.

5. Offer alternatives. With family members, don’t accept excuses for not helping without offering alternatives. A sibling who lives far away, for example, can help with paying bills, contacting doctors’ offices or seeking support from local agencies. Siblings who have young children can cook meals or bring kids along for visits and outings.

6. Hold family meetings. Schedule them regularly, and bring in distant family by phone. Choose a neutral party to moderate if necessary. Draw up a clear agenda for each meeting, and agree on rules of conduct — for instance, don’t interrupt, stick to time limits, avoid argument and focus the discussion on how to care for your parents. If meetings tend to be contentious, consider hiring a geriatric care manager to run the meeting.

7. Involve your children. When you have parents and children who need your time and attention, you may feel pulled from both sides. Be honest with your children about the situation, and listen to their concerns. Encourage their questions, and answer them thoroughly. Carve out time for fun activities, and request your children’s help. Teenagers can drive Grandma to the store, and even a toddler can make her feel loved.

8. Talk to your spouse. Have a discussion with your partner about your caregiving responsibilities.What role do you expect him or her to play? Suggest specific ways your spouse can help, and show appreciation for his or her efforts. Recognize that your responsibilities affect your spouse, and encourage him or her to talk about any frustrations. Your relationship is a priority — keep it that way.

Your To-Do List

Determine housing options and preferences: With your parents, discuss whether they want to continue to care for their home or whether they have considered living elsewhere. Depending on their health and well-being, they can either stay in their home with some changes and additional help or consider other options such as an assisted living residence or a continuing care retirement community.

Research helpful services: Consider home care, adult day services, meal delivery and help with everyday activities such as preparing meals and doing laundry.

Learn medical history: Ask your parents about any medical conditions or health problems and get a list of their doctors and medications. If your parents are unclear about the details, ask if you can go with them on their next visit to the doctor.

Assemble contact list: Gather names and contact information for those in your parents’ personal support system. This should include close relatives and friends, neighbors, friends from their place of worship, clergy, housing managers or apartment front-desk staff, and even the local pharmacist.

Create a financial profile: While this information may be difficult to obtain, it is critical to have. Make a list of income sources such as Social Security and pensions, monthly and yearly income and expenses, bank accounts and investments, and a statement of net worth.

Review legal needs: Work with your parents to determine what relevant legal documents they have or want to have (wills, advance directives such as living wills, health care proxy forms, trusts and powers of attorney). Locate important documents, including their birth certificates, deed to home and insurance policies, and find out if they are up to date and express their current wishes.

Make a list of important accounts: Include Social Security numbers, bank accounts, credit cards, health and life insurance policies, and driver’s licenses.


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