When we investigated the effects of dementia, it is important to look into how dementia affects the caregiver.
This is because dementia is a progressive disease that does not only INFLUENCE the person with the illness but the people looking after them as well.
When a person starts to experience dementia symptoms, their close friends and family also begin a challenging journey.
They have to cope with the implications of the diagnosis as well as come to terms with the changes happening in their loved ones’ lives.
Impact of dementia on caregivers and family members
The friends or relatives who take up the responsibility of looking after persons with dementia are known as informal caregivers or carers because they do not receive payment for the care services rendered.
Challenges in Dementia Caregiving
While trying to meet the growing demands of persons with dementia, caregivers may go through several CHALLENGES that may include:
Caregivers may go through a state of emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion something that is referred to as burnout.
This can cause a change in attitude where a caregiver may transform from a caring and positive individual to an UNCONCERNED and NEGATIVE person.
This can also make a person experience fatigue, depression, anxiety, and stress.
Burnout mostly happens when a caregiver does not get the help they need or when they try to do more than they can handle financially or physically.
Most caregivers are also known to feel guilty if they opt to spend time or money on themselves rather than their loved ones who are ill.
Burnout is caused by a variety of reasons that may include:
1. NEGLECTING personal spiritual and physical health and focusing on the person with dementia.
2. Having UNREALISTIC expectations: Many caregivers tend to expect that they will have a positive effect on the happiness and health of the person they are looking after.
They may not get the results they desire which can be frustrating especially because dementia is a progressive disease. Most people with the illness will only get worse because it still has no cure.
3. Lack of CONTROL: Most caregivers will also become frustrated when they lack enough skills and resources to effectively carry out their care plans.
Some of the symptoms of caregiver burnout include:
- Loss of interest in activities they previously enjoyed
- Withdrawal from relatives and friends
- Changes in sleep patterns
- Feeling irritable, blue, helpless, and hopeless
- Changes in weight, appetite or both
- Always falling sick
- Physical and emotional exhaustion
- Feelings of wanting to hurt themselves or the person they are looking after
Increased Stress Levels
Increased stress levels is another way dementia affects the caregiver.
This is because it can be quite overwhelming to look after someone who has dementia.
Some of the symptoms that may be an indication that a caregiver is going through stress are:
This is where the carer denies that their loved one has dementia and believes that the person they are caring for will feel better.
Carers can direct anger to the person with dementia because they become more dependent on them and cannot handle the tasks they used to.
For instance, when a person cannot brush their teeth, the carer may think that the ill person is just being stubborn.
This is mostly brought about by worrying about the future and the role they will be playing in the life of the person with the illness.
Lack of enough sleep
Sleeplessness can be caused by a huge list of concerns.
It is hard to enjoy deep sleep when the carer is often worried about the well-being of the person they are caring for.
Lack of Concentration
This makes it difficult for the caregiver to perform familiar tasks.
Loneliness and Isolation
Most caregivers lack social support and contact which makes them experience sessions of social isolation.
Many carers will sacrifice the things they love including hobbies and pursuits so that they can spend time with the individuals who have dementia.
Increased risk of health complications is another way dementia affects the caregivers.
A survey published by the Associated Press and the NORC Centre for Public Affairs Research reported that 33% of carers struggle to maintain their own health.
The survey also revealed that caregivers skip personal doctor visits because of their caregiving responsibilities.
This is a HUGE problem seeing that 34% of carers are 65 years and above.
Caregivers are prone to developing health issues such as lower immunity, cardiovascular problems, slower wound healing, poorer immune response.
They can also EXPERIENCE higher levels of chronic conditions like arthritis, diabetes, anemia, and ulcers amongst others.
This implies that the carer may have to schedule more doctor visits and take more medication.
Research also shows that caregivers are more likely to experience poor sleep patterns, and start drinking alcohol and smoking.
Dementia is an expensive disease. In 2003, the direct cost of dementia across the globe was recorded at 156 billion USD.
Caring for a person with dementia can affect family finances.
This mostly happens especially if the care was UNEXPECTED and UNPLANNED. Some caregivers may help cover some of the costs associated with dementia care out of their pockets.
Others may have to reduce their work hours or even quit so that they can get more time to look after loved ones with the progressive illness.
A survey from USAgainstAlzheimer’s uncovered 60% of dementia caregivers face financial problems when they are looking after people with dementia or Alzheimer’s.
Rewards of Caregiving
Even though taking care of a person with dementia can be stressful, there are also POSITIVE POINTS when it comes to how dementia affects the caregiver and some of them include:
1. Creating Strong Bonds: Thanks to the time the carers spend with their loved ones.
2. Relationship and Problem: Solving skills improve because caregivers must think on their feet most of the time when handling the changes that they face because of the disease.
3. Forming New Relationships through Support Groups: Caregivers meet other carers through support groups as they talk about the issues they can go through and how best they can solve them.
There are both POSITIVE and NEGATIVE ways in how dementia affects the caregiver.
Informal carers play an important role in looking after their loved ones with dementia and their contribution should never be ignored.