Understanding the Unique Stress Dementia Caregivers Face

Would you be surprised to learn that in 2016 more than 15 million Americans provided an estimated 18.2 billion hours of care to a loved one who is living with dementia? Perhaps what is more surprising is that these numbers don’t include professional caregivers. For these family caregivers, providing care is a series of peaks and valleys. It can be a labor of love and deeply fulfilling in one moment, while in the next moment, it can saddle them with overwhelming responsibility and force them to make decisions for their parent they could have never imagined.

Dementia caregiving is unique and has been well-studied. Unlike other illnesses, the onset of dementia is not abrupt. While this allows dementia patients time to plan for their care and communicate their wishes for their estate, it also means those caring for an individual with dementia spend more time providing care than their other caregiving peers. Over time, it becomes quite stressful to juggle providing dementia care and responding to the demands of a career and, often, one’s own family. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that dementia caregivers are at a greater risk for anxiety, depression and a poorer quality of health than family caregivers who are not providing dementia care. The decrease in health for caregivers of those with dementia is particularly pronounced. Thirty-five percent of these caregivers told the Alzheimer’s Association their health had gotten worse as a result of their responsibilities, while only 19 percent of those providing care to a family member without dementia reported a decrease in health.

Signs of Caregiver Burnout and Stress

The demands of caregiving can often limit a caregiver’s ability to take care of themselves. Experts agree, family caregivers should be vigilant in watching for the signs of burnout and either seek respite care or consult with their doctor to avoid serious health consequences.

Some warning signs of caregiver burnout:

  • Withdrawal – When activities that were once enjoyable no longer bring the same pleasure, and the caregiver consistently does not want to spend time with family and friends, the caregiver might be experiencing withdrawal.
  • Short temper – Routinely feeling anger at family members or anger that is an overreaction can be a symptom of burnout and stress.
  • Loss of concentration – Constantly thinking about caregiving responsibilities and not being able to focus on the task at hand can be a sign it is time to seek help managing caregiving responsibilities.
  • Insomnia – Caregivers who are burning out may feel tired, but have a hard time staying asleep.
  • DepressionDepression is a serious condition, and family caregivers who are caring for a loved one with dementia are twice as likely to suffer from depression.
  • Declining health – Stress and a lack of sleep can weaken one’s immune system. Stress can lead to family caregivers becoming sick more frequently than when they weren’t providing care.

Comprehensive Assistance for Those Living With Dementia

At IKOR, we know caring for an individual with dementia is a much bigger challenge than just providing hands-on care. As dementia takes hold, many activities, which were once performed without the need for help, begin to become challenging. Family caregivers may find themselves helping their loved one manage their finances, arrange doctor appointments, go grocery shopping, or even get their estate in order. As life care managers, we take a holistic approach to the special challenges individuals living with dementia and their families face. We are local experts who can connect you with resources to manage life throughout the condition. If you or someone you know is feeling overwhelmed following a diagnosis of dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, contact one of our local offices today.