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Signs of Caregiver Stress

Taking care of a loved one with Alzheimer's disease is very stressful. Caregivers react to their stress individually. What follows is a list of possible reactions. If you answer "yes" to any of these questions, you're suffering caregiver distress. The more yes answers, the closer you are to burning out. Take some time to consider how you might take better care of yourself. Material available throughout TAKING CARE...OF YOURSELF can help. Have you withdrawn from close friends? Fewer visits? Shorter phone calls? Routine refusals of invitations? The responsibilities of caregiving almost always involve seeing less of acquaintances, but if you've withdrawn from close friends, you're in distress.

Have you given up your favorite pastimes? The demands of caregiving always mean less time for gardening, movies, hobbies, and other activities you enjoyed before you became an Alzheimer's caregiver. But if you've cut them out entirely--or almost entirely--you're in distress.

Are you feeling persistently blue, irritable, helpless, or hopeless? These are classic symptoms of depression. Of course, taking care of anyone with Alzheimer's disease is inherently depressing. It's awful to watch a loved one decline, and have to take over management of another person's life. But if you develop any of these symptoms, you're in distress.

Do minor upsets make you cry? This is another symptom of depression. It's natural to be moved to tears as you watch the affected individual lose some long-cherished skill, for example, pie-baking or woodworking. But if you find yourself weeping frequently over inconsequential things, you're in distress.

Do minor upsets make you furious? Are you yelling at your loved one more lately? Do you have increasing difficulty controlling your temper with other people? It's natural to go over the edge if the Alzheimer's sufferer breaks a precious family heirloom. But if you fly off the handle when a friend arrives 15 minutes late for a date, or when your children leave some dishes unwashed, or when the person ahead of you in the supermarket express checkout line has 11 items instead of the limit of 10, you're in distress.

Have you gained or lost more than five pounds in the last few months? Weight changes are another sign of depression-stress-burnout.

Do you have trouble sleeping? Caring for a loved one with Alzheimer's disease can cause periodic anxiety dreams, nightmares, and unwelcome wake-ups in the wee hours. But if you experience frequent sleep disturbances, you're in distress.

Do you feel exhausted all the time? The demands of Alzheimer's caregiving are exhausting. But if you frequently wake up feeling you can't get out of bed despite a good night's sleep, you're in distress.

Do you seem to be getting ill more often than you used to? The immune system is what protects us from illness and helps us recover when we get sick. Many things can impair immune function, among them: fatigue, depression, and stress. It's natural for Alzheimer's caregivers to catch an extra cold or two a year because of the demands of caregiving. In fact, a studies show that flu shots were less effective in Alzheimer's care givers because the stress of caregiving had impaired their immune function (Science News, 4-13-96). But if you seem to be getting one illness after the next, and if they linger longer than you think they should, you're in distress.

Have you recently developed any chronic health problems? These might include: headaches, back or neck pain, stomach distress, diarrhea, constipation, or heart palpitations, among others. It's natural to experience any of these from time to time. But if they become persistent, chances are you're in distress.

Do you ever think: "I can't take this anymore." It's natural to react to life's daily pressures and absurdities by occasionally feeling: "Get me out of here." But when escape fantasies become frequent, you're in distress.


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