Identifying and Addressing Caregiver Depression
Alzheimer’s Foundation of America Provides Tips to Help Alzheimer’s Family Caregivers, Who Face Higher Risk of Depression
As part of Mental Health Awareness Month, the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America (AFA) is providing tips to help family caregivers identify and address the signs of depression. Alzheimer’s family caregivers are at greater risk for depression than caregivers of people with other conditions, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“Exhaustion, stress, and feelings of isolation and loss are all common emotions that Alzheimer’s family caregivers experience, but these can all lead to depression if not addressed constructively,” said Jennifer Reeder, LCSW, AFA’s Director of Educational and Social Services. “Being mindful of the warning signs of depression and taking steps to deal with them is essential to providing the best care possible, because every caregiver needs time to replenish themselves mentally, emotionally, and physically.”
Depression affects people in different ways, and the type and intensity of symptoms vary according to the person and can change over time. General warning signs to watch for when caregiving, especially when these symptoms persist beyond a couple of weeks, include:
• Feeling nothing you do is good enough
• Feeling empty or hopeless
• Feeling tired all the time
• Having little interest in once-enjoyable activities and connections with others
• Weight loss or gain
• Changes in sleep patterns (too much or not enough sleep)
• Somatic symptoms not responsive to medical treatment (such as headaches, chronic pain or digestive disorders)
Here are some steps that caregivers can take to help combat depression:
• Accept support. Isolation can accelerate caregiver burnout. Asking for support and help is important; family, friends, and neighbors are often eager to help but do not know how. Be specific and let people know what you need. Joining a support group can also connect you with others who understand what you are going through, and can share emotions and support, as well as practical advice and resources, in a safe and understanding environment.
• Take care of your body. Diet, exercise, and sleep play a role in your mental health as well as your physical health. Eating fresh fruits, vegetables, and healthy fats, and limiting or avoiding processed foods, may help with symptoms of depression. Physical activity improves mood and decreases stress. Lack of sleep has been linked to the development and management of depression; speak to your doctor if you are struggling with sleep problems.
• Make time to clear your mind. Exercises such as mediation or yoga, writing down your thoughts in a journal, or even something as simple as going for a walk, can expand feelings of relaxation.
• Utilize respite care. Respite care provides short-term relief for primary caregivers by having a professional attend to your loved one, either at home, in a healthcare facility, or an adult day center, allowing the caregiver time to care for themselves. Respite care can be arranged for just an afternoon or for several days or weeks.
AFA offers telephone-based support groups and can provide support, services, and connections with local resources through the AFA Helpline, which is available seven days a week. Call 866-232-8484, webchat at www.alzfdn.org, or text 646-586-5283 to speak with a social worker.