Tom Coughlin is a former Super Bowl-winning NFL head coach. It was his job to lead and motivate some of the toughest men in professional sports in the pursuit of victory.
However, he wrote an article in the New York Times writing about a new, much more difficult challenge he’s taken on: that of caregiver to his wife Judy, who is living with a brain disorder called progressive supranuclear palsy, which as he writes, “…erodes an individual’s ability to walk, speak, think and control body movements. It steals memories and the ability to express emotions and, sadly, is incurable.”
Coughlin is one of millions of Americans thrust into the position of caregiver for a loved one living with a disease. It’s a particularly acute crisis for those caring for someone with Alzheimer’s or dementia, as they watch that person’s memory slip away.
Not only are they dealing with their loved one’s decline, but throughout the pandemic many services or support systems closed and social outings were nixed, placing even more responsibility on the shoulders of the home-based caregiver. It snowballs when the person with cognitive decline doesn’t understand why their routine is changing, which can lead to agitation and the hastening of their condition.
And this all comes on top of a caregiver quite likely having a job of their own they’re trying to do, as well as their own stressors that are part of everyday life.
Another article in the New York Times earlier this year laid out the challenges facing those providing care for someone with memory loss, not only in trying to manage their condition, but keep them safe from the dangers of COVID-19.
Add it all up, and it’s creating a crisis not only for those living with Alzheimer’s or dementia, but their loved ones charged with caring for them as well.
Mental Health Tips for Caregivers
If you find yourself caring for a loved one living with memory loss and struggling with the stress that comes with it, there are ways to cope:
Ask For Help
Help could be in the form of other family members or friends to relieve you for a time. Or it may be finding resources to assist you. In the latter case, the Alzheimer’s Association has a Navigator tool that can be of great use, tips for creating a care team, and a community resource finder.
Find Pockets of Time For Yourself
It’s important not to lose sight of yourself, and the things that make you happy. When time allows, go for a walk or run, do some gardening, watch an episode of your favorite TV show, catch up with a friend over the phone or on FaceTime, or put on some headphones and dance to your favorite music. It can recharge your batteries and reset your mood.
Use Relaxation Techniques
Visualization, meditation, breathing exercises or progressive muscle relaxation can all be useful ways finding calm. It might also be worth exploring downloading a meditation app, such as Calm, to help you slow down during and center yourself.
Maintain Healthy Habits
It’s tempting to reach for the comfort food in the midst of the stress of caregiving, and there’s certainly nothing wrong with treating yourself from time to time. But eating healthy, and limiting alcohol, will help your energy levels and prevent crashes that can leave you exhausted.
It’s also a good idea to stay active as much as possible. Getting in a quick jog, doing yoga, going for a bike ride, anything you can fit into your schedule, even for just 15-20 minutes, can have a tangible impact on your physical and mental health.
Know That You’re Doing Your Best
Few people take on the role of caregiver and know exactly what to do. It’s uncharted territory for just about everyone, and no one can be expected to be perfect. If you’re always acting with the best interests of your loved one in mind, it’s all anyone can ask. Remind yourself that this is one of the most difficult things you will ever do, and take things one day at a time.
Is It Time for Full-Time Care?
At Prestige Senior Living, we know the toll that caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s Disease or dementia can take. We also know there can be feelings of guilt that come with considering full-time care for your loved one.
It’s a difficult, wrenching decision, but with that said, our teams have programs and safety measures in place to provide industry-leading care for those living with Alzheimer’s Disease or dementia.
Our award-winning program Expressions is designed to keep memory care residents active and engaged. We use innovative care techniques and life enrichment programming to provide people with dementia and their families an environment in which the individual can live a productive and active life and be treated with dignity and respect.
If you’re ready to consider memory care for your loved one, contact the community nearest you for more information or to set up a tour.