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Published April 05, 2014, 12:28 PM

Minding Our Elders: Caregiver’s self-care may decrease Alzheimer’s risk

DEAR CAROL: Alzheimer’s has affected both of my parents. Mom died two years ago and Dad is now in mid-stage Alzheimer’s. I’m worn out from providing care for them both even though Dad is now in a nursing home because of other health issues and is receiving excellent care from the staff.

By: Carol Bradley Bursack, INFORUM

DEAR CAROL: Alzheimer’s has affected both of my parents. Mom died two years ago and Dad is now in mid-stage Alzheimer’s. I’m worn out from providing care for them both even though Dad is now in a nursing home because of other health issues and is receiving excellent care from the staff. I try to visit Dad nearly every day, though it’s becoming increasingly hard. I feel guilty when I don’t visit because, though I helped, he took care of Mom for years and then visited her constantly in the nursing home. My parents were wonderful to me and I’ve loved them dearly, but I’m just so tired. I also worry about developing Alzheimer’s disease myself since both parents have had it. Is there any hope with this genetic background that I won’t develop Alzheimer’s? – Cindy

DEAR CINDY: It’s understandable that you are tired. Even though your dad is in a nursing home, you are still a caregiver. Not only do you work a daily visit into your routine, you have the ever present knowledge that you are on call for emergencies.

You mentioned that your dad’s care at the nursing home is excellent. Talk with his nurses and let them know that you are going to take better care of yourself by visiting a little less often, though you’ll still be available if they feel you should be there. Tell your dad that you are going to start working on your own health. He may or may not comprehend what you are saying, but the man who has loved you all of your life would want this for you.

Then, put an action plan in place. See your doctor to make sure that there are no physical reasons for your exhaustion that better self-care won’t improve. See a counselor if you and/or your doctor think that you could use some help to alleviate feelings of guilt. Caregivers are champions at collecting unearned feelings of guilt over what they think they could have or should have done or not done for their care receiver. Exercise often and maintain a healthy diet. Renew friendships that have gone by the wayside during your heavy caregiving years. An active social life is important for mental health and may also help stave off Alzheimer’s. You may want to take an interesting class at a local college or sign up for one of the many programs online that aim to challenge your mind, as well. These steps won’t hurt you and they may help you stay cognitively healthy. At least you’ll know that you did the best you could.

With your genetic background, you are likely more at risk for developing Alzheimer’s disease than someone without a genetic link, but having a genetic link doesn’t guarantee that you’ll develop the disease. As mentioned above, taking good care of yourself physically, emotionally and socially may provide some protection. Also, within the next decade there should be more understanding about the root causes of Alzheimer’s and, we hope, some reliable solutions to help stave off, prevent or cure the disease. Take care of yourself now for your own sake as well as for your family. It’s time.


Carol Bradley Bursack is the author of a support book on caregiving and runs a website supporting caregivers at www.mindingourelders.com. She can be reached at carolbursack@msn.com.

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