In last week’s blog, I asked this question “Is caregiving making you sick?” Many researchers have looked at this issue and it’s very clear that caregivers of patients with Alzheimer’s dementia are at a higher risk of developing psychological and physical illnesses as a result of chronic stress of caregiving.
The level of burden for caregivers of patients with dementia compares to the stress that’s experienced by caregivers of patients with cancer.
Typical tasks offered by these caregivers include assistance with acts of daily living, meal preparation, bill paying, taking care of the house, and transportation. The average person with Alzheimer’s dementia can live four to eight years after diagnosis. This long period of decline places a chronic burden on the caregiver.
Extensive research has been done to look at how caregivers cope with the stressors of dementia care. Coping strategies can be divided into three areas – task focused, emotion-focused, and avoidance focused.
Task-focused coping strategy: where the caregiver is performing a task that will remove the problem.
The caregiver that uses coping is:
- Trying something to make things better
- Reaching out to others for advice or additional help
- Actively moving forward to help reduce the stress of caregiving
Emotion-focused coping strategy: deals with the distressing situation through emotional expression.
Strategies that are helpful in reducing the anxiety, depression, and physical effects of caregiving include:
- Acceptance of the reality of the situation and learning to live with it
- Getting emotional support from others
- Reframing the situation by trying to see things in a new light
- Finding comfort in religion or spiritual beliefs
- Learning how to find the humor in the situation
Avoidance focused coping strategy: avoids the burdensome situation. The caregiver disengages from the stressful situation and the emotions related to the stress. This coping strategy is the most dysfunctional of the strategies and often leads to worsening depression and anxiety for the caregiver.
They deal with their role of caregiving by:
- Denial of the situation and giving up on what needs to be done
- Self-distraction with work or avoidance of the person in need
- Substance abuse to escape the psychological burden of being a caregiver
- Negative venting that leads to a higher level of distress
Learning how to cope with the chronic stress of caring for a person with Alzheimer’s dementia is critical for the prevention of psychological and physical illnesses in the caregiver. Next week we will look at some helpful tips a caregiver needs to put in place to take care of themselves.
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