It’s difficult when memory loss causes changes in a person you know and love, and learning how to cope with the responsibilities of being a caregiver can feel overwhelming. While you may find it hard to focus on yourself, listening to your body and feeding your own physical, mental and spiritual needs is vital for both you and your loved one.
Understanding Memory Loss
Watching someone struggle with memory loss can be upsetting. Geriatric fellowship trained, AdventHealth Primary Care Physician, Tina Benson, DO explains, “Subtle changes in memory may not be obvious to other people who aren’t as familiar with your loved one’s ‘normal.’ This often leads to a delay in the diagnosis of cognitive impairment. Recognizing cognitive impairment early allows patients and their families to have conversations with their doctor about what can be done to prevent its worsening, signs of progression into dementia, and how to best respond to functional and behavioral changes.” Spending some time first understanding its causes — which may be related to several different conditions — could also be very helpful as you navigate this journey.
The most well-known is dementia, which includes Alzheimer’s disease. These are progressive forms of memory loss and cognitive impairment that have no cure.
Other potential causes include certain medications or interactions between them, brain tumors, strokes and depression. Some of those conditions can be treated and the memory loss reversed if a diagnosis is made quickly. However, for many, memory loss is a progressive issue, and caregivers will be called on more and more for help.
Finding Your Role as Caregiver
As you provide care, remember that your family member is experiencing a loss. It may be difficult but talking about the disease and what to expect can help ease anxiety and fears of the unknown.
A daily routine also helps reduce stress by setting shared expectations. Try to incorporate activities that both of you enjoy and find special moments to connect and cherish one another’s company.
Financial and legal matters may also be hard to discuss, but it is essential to address them before memory loss becomes severe. Having a financial planner or lawyer present may help with these conversations.
Make Your Health a Priority
It’s easy to put your own physical, mental and spiritual needs on the backburner when caring for someone with memory loss. But remember that taking care of yourself will give you the strength, stamina and patience you need to support your loved one.
Keep a few simple tips in mind to make your health a priority. These are easy to incorporate into your day — without sacrificing time or energy away from your family member or friend.
1. Eat healthy.
A diet that features whole grains, fruits, vegetables and lean protein can give you the energy you need to care for someone else. Vitamins and minerals in nutrient-rich foods give your body the sustenance it needs to stay healthy, cope with stress, and boost your whole health.
2. Get enough sleep.
Stress and anxiety can make anyone toss and turn at night. If you’re finding it hard to fall and stay asleep, try establishing a healthy nighttime routine. Stop drinking caffeine after lunch, limit alcohol intake and eat a healthy meal. Take a warm bath to relax or sip a calming (decaf) tea to help the worries of the day drift away.
If you do wake up in the middle of the night, resist the urge to pick up your phone or turn on the TV. Not only can the stressors of day-to-day life creep into your mind, but the blue light from the screen has been shown to disrupt sleep.
3. Take a break.
There’s no shame in asking for help. Time away can help you re-center and refocus on what’s most important — caring for your loved one with dignity and grace. Accept offers of help from friends and family members and take time away for yourself. Browse a local
bookstore, meet with a spiritual leader, attend a bible study or sermon, or grab a cup of coffee with a friend.
4. Find support.
You’ve suddenly found yourself in a role that you never imagined. It can be a big responsibility to care for someone with memory loss and can sometimes feel isolating. Friends may not understand the challenges you’re facing or even know how to best support you.
Seek support from others who understand what you’re experiencing. Ask your loved one’s doctor about support groups or talk with a sibling or partner who can empathize with your situation.
5. You deserve grace, too.
No one is asking you to be perfect — and no one expects it. Remember to be gentle with yourself, especially if you feel like you were impatient at times or unable to provide the care you hoped. Remind yourself that tomorrow is a new day and accept that some days will be more difficult than others.
Supporting Your Journey
“As a geriatrician, my goal is to guide and support patients and their families through hard times, whether they are due to mild cognitive impairment or advanced dementia,” shares Dr. Benson. “Together we can identify resources in the community that best suit your situation. Ultimately, despite the challenges that a memory disorder can bring, a whole-person approach for you and your loved one will facilitate optimal and shared quality of life.”
We're here to support you and your loved ones when you need us — no matter where you are in your journey. Call Call855-774-5433 to find a provider near you for advice, help or care.