My wife has Alzheimer’s disease and caring for her is physically as well as emotionally demanding. Caring for myself, therefore, is essential — for both of us.
As a caregiver, I think that self-care starts with awareness, honesty, and acceptance. Many of us who care for our spouses in one way or another may not at first recognize, or may choose not to recognize, the early symptoms of Alzheimer’s. Personally, I went through some denial. I wanted to believe that if I worked hard enough and just kept living my life — our life — normally, then it would all indeed be… normal.
Recognize Caregiver Stress
I have always loved my job and been accomplished at it. You could even say I WAS my job. At the time of my wife’s diagnosis, my boss was set to retire and I was poised to be his replacement. Fearing that a perception of fragility would hurt my career trajectory, I avoided talking publicly about my wife’s illness. But caring for my wife meant I had new responsibilities and concerns, on top of all the things I was already handling. Soon, I started to see negative effects at work. I was building a dam to stem the tide of my emotions and the problems that were mounting up. Stress just kept coming and I didn’t know how to deal with it, except by blocking it off and keeping it inside. As a result I became increasingly anxious and exhausted… read more.
It’s possible I was experiencing an adjustment disorder. An adjustment disorder is a short-term illness during which a person finds it very difficult to cope with a particular source of stress, such as a significant change in life circumstances. Adjustment disorders are common among caregivers like me because caregivers are often required to suddenly take on new and sometimes overwhelming responsibilities.
The symptoms of an adjustment disorder can include:
- Anxiety, fear or worry
- Avoiding others (including family and friends)
- Difficulty concentrating
- Difficulties doing normal tasks (school, job, paying bills)
Fortunately, there are treatments and support for caregivers experiencing an adjustment disorder. One treatment is the type of cognitive behavioral therapy provided via telehealth by MyHealios. Cognitive behavioral therapy is a talk therapy that can help caregivers manage their symptoms by changing the way they think and behave.
Ask for Help
My symptoms included depression, anxiety, and difficulty sleeping. One night, I woke up suddenly and found myself struggling to breathe. My legs were trembling, my heart was racing and I was feeling claustrophohic. I had to get outside! In the fresh air on my balcony I felt a little bit better but I was still shrouded in a sense of doom. Was I having a heart attack? I went to the hospital but my heart was fine. The doctors said I’d had a panic attack and was overstressed. It was time for me to get help.
I had been trying to handle everything on my own and in secret. But to relieve my stress I needed to start being honest with myself, my friends, and my coworkers. And I needed to find some assistance as I cared for my wife. Whether that assistance would come from home health care, Alzheimer’s day care, an Alzheimer’s assisted living residence, or a memory care facility, I didn’t yet know — but I knew that for both my sake and my wife’s, I needed to garner support.
Don’t Be Afraid to Disappoint
The most difficult thing for me to do was to ask for a reduced schedule at work. In doing so, I was admitting that life was not the same — and wouldn’t be the same moving forward. I was very afraid that I was disappointing my boss and I felt ashamed that I couldn’t handle work and my wife’s care like I had previously. But after I opened up to my boss, things started to come easier. I was able to open up to others, too, and in doing so I was able to find support. Suddenly, I wasn’t alone any more.
Look After Yourself So You Can Look After Your Loved One
Taking care of people with Alzheimer’s requires energy, creativity, and time. It also requires education, training, and specific skills. You can learn to be an even better caregiver and the techniques and information you acquire will make your own life and your loved one’s life even better.
As I’m sure you know, caregiving can be challenging and stressful, I hope you can take time to care for yourself and to find help if you experience any symptoms of an adjustment disorder. Adjustment disorder is treatable but if left untreated it could progress to something more serious, which would not be good for you or for the loved one you care for. When I got help (for myself and for my wife), I was able to recover my energy, to improve our quality of life, and to increase our ability to enjoy time together.
I know that my wife will not get better and that she will continue to lose objects and accuse me of hiding them, but instead of getting angry or feeling hurt, I have learned to channel empathy. The more she becomes fragile and dependent, the more I try to create moments of serenity for us both. I wish you the opportunity to do the same.