Caregiver Coping Strategies for Loved Ones with Alzheimer’s

An Alzheimer’s disease diagnosis is life-altering. Not only for the person experiencing the symptoms and receiving the diagnosis but also for those close to them. You may feel stress, sadness and grief – even resentment and anger are normal when someone else’s diagnosis upends your life. As you navigate the ins and outs of doctors’ appointments, finances, and deteriorating health, it can be easy to forget about your own mental and physical wellness. Understanding your loved one’s behavior changes in addition to prioritizing self-care will help make this difficult journey a little easier for both of you. 

A person diagnosed with Alzheimer’s will start to display signs of extreme anxiety with daily living tasks and activities. The frustration of not remembering schedules, days, times and other simple functions can come out in the form of intense anger and frustration – and many times, it may not even feel like the same mom, dad, husband or wife you know and love. A person diagnosed with Alzheimer’s will also feel sad or frustrated over being unable to enjoy activities they once did – like puzzles, sewing or working on garage projects. Both the caregiver and the loved one are on an overwhelming emotional rollercoaster for everyone involved. Remembering that the behavior is not directed at you is an essential first step in coping.

The next step in coping with this aggression is simply anticipating that it will happen. Oftentimes our emotions match theirs when we are caught off guard. Recognizing triggers to the behavior and helping to prevent them will ease the outbursts on both sides. Schedules, post-it reminders and clear communication are ways you can help ease the anxiety of memory loss. 

Once you understand the behavior and its triggers, the next coping strategy is to set realistic goals. You want your loved one to be well-cared for all day and every day, but you also have a family, a job and a home that need to be taken care of too. Accepting that you aren’t going to reach 100% of your goals daily, weekly or monthly may help alleviate the added stress of caregiving. Consider getting a housekeeper to help with those monthly deep cleans or hiring a student to keep the yard tidy. Little things that you can take off your plate will make a big difference. 

Last but certainly not least is self-care, and in whatever form that means to you. Daily walks, support groups, a date night – choosing something outside of caregiving that defines who you are as a person will help. The team at Burnett Medical Center’s Continuing Care Center has options available like respite care and other support services. Additionally, the ADRC of Northwest Wisconsin has resources readily available to help you cope with caring for your loved one with Alzheimer’s so that you are both able to complete a fulfilling life through this difficult journey.