Are you a caregiver to a person who has dementia?
If someone you love has Alzheimer’s or any other type of dementia, you may be experiencing ambiguous loss: the loved one is both present and gone, as the relationship that you once had is irrevocably gone and the person is rarely aware of the present circumstances. There is no clarity and no resolution. It is confusing to family members and also very stressful.
Usually defined as “the unpaid work of family members that make it possible for spouses and parents to live at home longer,” care giving often deeply changes the lives of caregivers:
• If they provide care to a spouse, they often have to take over all the responsibilities that were once shared. They grieve loss of connection with their spouse. And they can feel isolated from other family members.
• Caregivers providing care for parents often belong to the sandwich generation, simultaneously caring for their children and their parents, juggling competing demands for their time and attention, re-negotiating their relationships with siblings and sometimes experiencing decrease of closeness and intimacy with their partner.
According to research, the stress of caregiving can be physical, psychological, emotional, social and financial:
• Family conflict often leading to mistrust and isolation of the caregiver
• Chronic stress as the health of the person with dementia deteriorates
• Societal prejudices towards people with mental health issues
• Expectation that the situation can be resolved and loss of hope
• Health issues: caregivers report experiencing high anxiety, they are often told they have depression, they have more pronounced physical health problems, their immune system is compromised and they live shorter than non-caregivers of the same gender and age
When to seek help?
• If you lost interest in activities that you used to enjoy
• If you are ignoring your own health problems
• If you are sleep-deprived and your energy is low
• If you are feeling isolated and misunderstood
• If you are feeling frustrated, angry or resentful and you have emotional outbursts
• If you are upset or irritated by lack of help from other family members
You may want to talk to a family therapist who can help you improve family communication, heal your relationships and find meaning in dealing with loss.