“One aspect of caregiving is universal: All who give care need to take care,” Jane Meier Hamilton, a registered nurse and former family caregiver, advises readers in an article in the latest care ADvantage magazine published by the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America.
Hamilton is one of several experts offering practical tips on managing stress and avoiding burnout in a special section on self-care in the winter 2012 issue of the quarterly magazine. The tips can help caregivers boost their own wellness while also increasing their capacity to care for loved ones.
Self-care is taking on increasing importance, given research showing that a caregiver’s physical and mental well-being are at risk when taking on primary responsibilities for loved ones with Alzheimer’s disease. At the same time, increasing numbers of Americans are assuming this role as the incidence of the brain disorder escalates in line with the nation’s aging population.
The toll on caregivers is so huge, in fact, that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services acknowledged it several times in its “Draft National Plan to Address Alzheimer’s Disease” released earlier this month. In outlining strategies for aiding caregivers, the plan notes that “the intensive support required for a person with Alzheimer’s disease can negatively impact the caregiver’s health and well-being.”
Hamilton of Gwynedd Valley, PA has been a caregiver herself—four different times for family members plus 35 years as a nurse. Sharing her knowledge, she tells other caregivers to first pinpoint their sources of stress, and then take action, including adjusting their attitude, using problem-solving skills when possible, and avoiding “stress-numbing” behaviors like overeating and alcohol consumption.
In another article, Eboni Green, Ph.D., R.N., offers a quiz to help caregivers determine their own state of wellness and a model to attain optimal wellness. According to her “Caregiver Wellness: U Model,” caregivers should focus on social, psychological, physical, intellectual, spiritual, occupational and financial wellness, while also incorporating the empowerment and resilience “necessary for you to take charge of your health on a holistic basis.”
Green, co-founder of Omaha-based Caregiver Support Services encourages caregivers to view the process as ongoing and to repeatedly re-evaluate their state of wellness, especially since caregivers’ roles may continue to evolve as Alzheimer’s disease progresses.
The articles provided an aha moment for one reader who subsequently submitted a letter to the editor of care ADvantage.
“When I read the section ‘Adjust your attitude—Think ‘I can do this!’ I gasped. I realized my inner mantra was ‘I can’t do this,’” said the family caregiver.
To further assist caregivers, the issue also features an interview with Gary Small, M.D., a renowned expert on brain health whose new book, “Alzheimer’s Prevention Program,” just hit bookstores.
Asked what caregivers can realistically do to preserve their own brain health given their limited time, Small said, “Caregivers can strive for daily exercise, a healthy diet and social engagement, and all three of these strategies sometimes can involve the person with the disease… If they exercise together, that will encourage social engagement, which is associated with better cognitive health as well.”
Eric J. Hall, AFA’s president and CEO, said care ADvantage magazine and AFA’s other resources are designed “to give caregivers the tools they need to take care of themselves and their loved ones with Alzheimer’s disease to the best of their abilities.”
“It’s okay to take a break without feeling guilty,” he said. “Given the threat of health problems posed by 24/7 responsibilities, we hope that caregivers take this advice and run with it.”
care ADvantage is available by free subscription directly to caregivers and is distributed to doctors’ offices, senior centers, long-term care facilities and other venues nationwide. To subscribe, visit www.afacareadvantage.org or call 866-232-8484.
AFA’s other programs and services designed specifically for caregivers include counseling by licensed social workers via phone, e-mail, Skype and live chat; a monthly teleconference that addresses practical strategies; and a Web site for family caregivers, www.carecrossroads.org, that includes an Alzheimer’s-specific discussion board. AFA also has a division to educate and engage teens, especially those who serve as caregivers.
The Alzheimer’s Foundation of America, based in New York, is a national nonprofit organization that unites more than 1,600 member organizations nationwide with the goal of providing optimal care and services to individuals with dementia, their caregivers and families. Its services include counseling and referrals by licensed social workers via a toll-free hot line, e-mail, Skype and live chat; educational materials; a free quarterly magazine for caregivers; and professional training. For more information about AFA, call toll-free 866-AFA-8484 or visit www.alzfdn.org.
©Alzheimer’s Foundation of America Website 2012. All rights reserved.