8 Smart Caregiver Self-Care Basics

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It's natural that all your worry and effort is directed toward supporting your loved one. Unfortunately, it's not healthy. The spouses or other primary caregivers of people with Alzheimer's disease or other forms of dementia get sick more often than the people they care for. That's because they absorb more stress and tend to get less sleep, and they typically make less time for preventative healthcare and other forms of self-care.

Making time for self-care isn't selfish; it's helps everyone. Here's what to remember:

  • Eat right. Follow the anti-inflammatory basics of a Mediterranean diet. Use food as fuel and to prevent disease, rather than for emotional off-loading and escapism.

  • Start or preserve a habit of regular physical exercise. Among its many benefits: Moderate amounts of physical exercise reduce inflammation (a process thought to contribute to the cell damage that underlies diabetes, heart disease, and possibly Alzheimer's).

  • Arrange your schedule so that it contains private time every day. It doesn't have to be long; it just has to be yours. Begin to look into adult day programs if you don't feel you can slip away from your loved one.

  • Preserve sleep. You need seven to nine hours a night. If reading that made you chuckle out loud, consider it a warning sign to bring in reinforcements that might improve your sleep, such as night help for your loved one or better sleep hygiene for yourself.

  • Have healthy emotional outlets. These might include a support group, a therapist, an online forum of fellow caregivers, a trusted friend you can call on at any time who'll listen without passing judgments -- or, ideally, all of the above.

  • Separately, have social outlets. Strong connections to others help build your immune system. Don't give up all your outside interests and commitments for caregiving; those that seem "least" essential because they're purely social may be the most important.

  • Get an annual physical. Not all docs say they're necessary for adults, but if you're a stressed caregiver, regular exams are a good catch-all time to get routine screening tests or immunizations you may be missing, assess the impact of stress, and get any needed referrals (such as to a therapist).

  • Get an annual flu shot and wash your hands all day long. You can't afford to get unnecessarily sick.

Try thinking of these things as part and parcel of caring for your loved one. Keeping yourself in reasonably good health is part of a smart care plan.

Paula Spencer Scott

Paula Spencer Scott is the author of Surviving Alzheimer's: Practical Tips and Soul-Saving Wisdom for Caregivers and much of the Alzheimer's and caregiving content on Caring. See full bio

about 4 years, said...

Have heard this, but did not believe it until reading this. Could not understand why I was so healthy before and now have too many health problems to mention and am having to file for disability. Makes it hard to get up out of bed and do things like they used to be and people don't understand. Thanks for emphasizing self care as if we don't take care of us, we won't be around to help anybody else either.

over 4 years, said...

I just got a physical and was told I have kidney disease, stage 3. I know I must take care of myself, since I'm the only caregiver my husband has. He's in early stage Alzheimer's, so I still enjoy little outings, alone. I moved into another bedroom because he snores and gets up often at night. The doctor gave me meds for stress. I need to live in the moment and not worry so much about what might happen down the line.

about 6 years, said...

I worked in the health field and saw caregivers get sick and die more often than the patient they cared for. Caregivers are at risk for getting sick because of the stress and pressure that doesn't let up. This is a good reminder to take care of yourself.

almost 7 years, said...

Bravo, Caring.com Great advice. Thanks for sharing, Anne Pringle Burnell