Dementia and Family Stress, Leading to Caregiver Burnout

Dementia and caregiver stress

Watching a loved one’s memory decline in front of your eyes is emotionally tiring and comes with a wide range of daily responsibilities. Someone whom you knew to be mentally sharp, stable, and independent is now becoming less functional, and starts to show many changes in their behaviour and mood patterns. In this article we address Dementia and family stress.

How To Prevent Stress and Burnout in Dementia Caregiver?

Looking after a family member or someone else who has a dementia onset is not just immensely challenging in terms of the responsibilities associated with this role, but also comes with a host of mental and emotional difficulties that often leave caregivers in a deep state of stress and burnout.

In this article, I’ll discuss the causes that lead people, who look after someone with cognitive decline, to experience burnout. I’ll also point out the signs that are worth paying attention to when it comes to this psychological state.

Further, I will also provide some support tips for how caregivers can prevent stress to take over and affect their mental health.

Dementia and Family Stress

Emotional Costs of Providing Care to an Individual with Memory Decline

If you have ever been in the position where you are responsible for an elderly’s health, you know this too well – providing care is not just about feeding, bathing, and administering medication to a vulnerable person.

Most of the time, the stress you experience when you are in a caregiver role has more to do with the emotional and mental impact of the job than with the physical responsibilities per se.

Surely, doing your best to keep your loved one with dementia safe and to make sure they attend their medical appointments does take a toll on your health, however, the real stress comes from other aspects.

Perhaps the distress caused by seeing your loved one’s mental health decline is so overwhelming that you can barely process it for yourself, let alone be strong enough to look after them.

You might stay awake at night wondering if they are going to fall, move away from their room or have an accident. Or perhaps their mood swings, uncontrollable behaviors and anger outbursts are so intense that you are left with very little mental energy to attend to your own life.

No matter what the most vulnerable aspect of the care is for you, it is important to know that feeling tired and stressed is very common among dementia caregivers.

Also, it might be helpful to know in advance how you can best handle burnout if you ever experience it.

Emotional Costs of Providing Care for Dementia

Identifying Signs of Dementia and Family Stress

Alzheimer’s and Dementia are neurodegenerative diseases that require family members and caregivers to be increasingly more involved in the care of the individual affected by them.

As signs and symptoms of dementia advance, the behaviours, personality, and health of the affected individual worsen, making the care more complex and demanding.

This puts increased pressure on family members and caregivers involved in the care process, who are more likely to develop symptoms of stress and burnout.

According to the Maslach Burnout Inventory, burnout is a psychological phenomenon defined by emotional exhaustion, cynicism, increased negativity, depersonalization, and a loss of interest in previously enjoyed things.

It is a common condition amongst caregivers due to the high demands and stresses created by this role.

Although the causes of burnout are complex and not yet entirely understood by research, it is believed that chronic and poorly managed stress is what leads those in a caregiver role to develop burnout symptoms.

It is highly important that all caregivers educate themselves on how to detect the first signs of burnout in order to seek support as early as possible.

Although this condition can show in subtle signs at first, be sure to look out for the following symptoms:

Fatigue

Extreme tiredness that does not go away with usual sleep or rest can indicate that you might be at risk of developing burnout.

Listen to your body and ensure that you give yourself plenty of time to recharge for all the effort you invest into looking after your loved one.

Irritability and mood swings

Due to the constant pressure of having to provide for a vulnerable senior, some people can experience mood changes and irritability.

This can trigger negative responses and impulses towards the people around them.

Lack of concentration

Due to sleeplessness and constant exhaustion, dementia caregivers might find that their concentration is impaired, and their cognitive skills are significantly affected.

Anxiety and depression

These two conditions can often manifest altogether. Some caregivers might feel increasingly worried about their loved one’s future while at the same time experiencing feelings of hopelessness and despair.

Having to figure out so many aspects of someone with dementia’s life can be challenging and frustrating, leading to symptoms of depression and anxiety.

Sleeplessness

Some caregivers might have impaired sleeping problems due to ongoing worries about their loved one. They might feel the pressure to be alert and available at all times, even during the night, which leads to issues with rest and sleep.

Dealing with Caregiver Burnout

It’s true that many family caregivers are so overburdened with responsibilities that they rarely get the chance to prioritise self-care.

Looking after someone with dementia can feel like a part-time job. Research shows that the average caregiver spends around 23.7 hours per week providing care to a loved one.

Besides work and other family commitments, this can really add significant pressure on many caregivers, who are left with the feeling that they need to be available to the loved one with dementia 24/7.

However, the only way of avoiding or coping with first signs of burnout is to prioritise self-care as much as possible.

Dealing with Caregiver Burnout

Me time

Setting time aside to recharge and recover from ongoing stressors is the only way to renew your emotional resources and to continue to be available to the vulnerable person as much as you can.

Failing to look after your emotional needs and to attend to the physical tiredness can backfire on your physical and mental health, which results in resentment and built-up anger. Ultimately, this can lead to a real burnout where you lack physical and emotional reserves to cope with the unavoidable challenges.

Set clear and realistic expectations

Another way of dealing with and preventing burnout is to be as realistic as possible regarding the support you are able to offer to the loved one with dementia.

As neurodegeneration progresses, the complexity of the care needed also increases. As a result, it is almost impossible for one single individual to meet all the needs of a senior with dementia.

Setting clear and realistic expectations on the amount of care you are able to offer can prevent you from experiencing feelings of guilt, self-blame and doubt.

Seek support

Similarly, asking for professional support is highly recommended for dementia caregivers who find themselves overburdened with responsibilities.

If you suffer from mental health conditions like anxiety, stress, or depression, you can get in touch with mental health professionals or counsellors who can help you better manage your resources and cope with daily challenges.

Tips to Manage Dementia and Family Stress

Recognising that the caregiver role brings a lot of stress with it should determine people in this role to implement strategies and measures that make more resilient, such as:

Educating yourself

Being a dementia caregiver requires more skills as the disease of your loved one progresses. As a result, you might want to access training courses of resources that better equip you to deal with the changes in behaviour and personality of the person diagnosed with dementia. It might also be helpful for you to talk to other caregivers about their experience with this matter.

Look after yourself

Prioritize sleep, good nutrition and see your doctor regularly. Prioritize your needs for rest and listen to your body when it needs a break.

Use relaxation techniques

This can be engaging in a hobby that you like or attending a yoga class. Breathing techniques, meditation, and visualisation techniques are also proven as highly effective methods in alleviating stress and tension.

Exercise weekly

Being active relieves mental stress and releases endorphins, a feel-good hormone that increases feelings of relaxation. Research shows that exercise also aids in conditions such as depression and anxiety, which are often found in people who suffer from chronic stress and burnout

Use relaxation techniques

Sort out legal and financial plans

Having all legal and financial aspects sorted can provide comfort to the entire family, thus relieving caregivers of the extra pressure associated with those aspects. Make sure that you involve the individual with dementia in their financial planning and seek legal and financial counsel so that you do not have to worry about these things in the future.

Final Words

Unfortunately, being a dementia caregiver can be a difficult burden to bear even for the most resilient of us.

Therefore, when dealing with dementia and family stress, it is important to ensure that you prioritize self-care and seek mental health support whenever you see a decline in your wellbeing.

Staying in touch with other family members and delegating responsibilities is also a good solution whenever this is possible.

Recognising that the caregiver role can put a lot of pressure on your mental, physical and emotional well-being is the first step in knowing how to access the relevant resources that help prevent chronic stress and burnout.

Stress and Dementia (Is There a Link?)

stress and dementia

When looking into the causes of dementia, we wondered many times whether there is a connection between stress and dementia risk.

News usually reports that there is a link between the two.

Below we discuss what stress is, WHY stress is linked to dementia, the EFFECTS of stress on the brain, STUDIES on the link between dementia and stress, and some of the ways to REDUCE stress.

Reasons Stress is Linked to Dementia

There are several logical reasons why there is a connection between stress and dementia.

For one, stress is known to affect a person’s IMMUNE SYSTEM which plays a major role in dementia development.

reasons stress is linked to dementia

When a person is going through stress, the body releases a hormone known as cortisol.

This has been linked to issues with memory.

Stress is also CLOSELY linked to conditions like anxiety and depression. These have been documented as factors that can increase the risk of dementia.

Effects of Stress on the Brain

Researchers from the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public health presented a study explaining how stressful life events can age the brain about 1.5 years.

They also clarified that some stressful experiences may lead to the development of different kinds of dementia later on in life. This was presented at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference in London.

Researchers assessed data from 1,320 participants who took part in cognitive tests and shared details about their stressful life events. The professionals discovered that each stressful event was equal to one and a half years of brain aging.

The statistics were different for African-Americans because a single stressful event was equal to four years of brain aging.

Although the link between dementia and stress needs more investigation, professionals believe that stress can lead to inflammation in the brain making the organ more susceptible to HEALTH ISSUES like dementia.

Stress can also cause depression which is another risk factor for dementia.

Stressful experiences

Examples of stressful experiences that are linked to damaging the brain include but are not limited to:

  • Being suspended or expelled from school
  • Getting fired from a job
  • A cheating partner
  • Financial problems
  • Death of a loved one
  • Dropping out of school
  • Legal difficulties
  • Being jobless
  • Assault

Research on the Link Between Stress and Dementia

research on the link between stress and dementia
While there have been numerous studies looking into the relationship between dementia and stress, there is no general agreement on what the exact link is.

One of the main reasons for this is that it is challenging for researchers to conclusively investigate stress.

This is because different people have different reactions to stressful situations.

It is also hard to quantify how stressed an individual is.

Other factors that are hard to separate may also come into play.

For instance, the role of lack of sleep, depression, and anxiety all of which have been associated with an INCREASED risk of dementia.

The complications explain why it may be challenging to carry out extensive research on the role that stress has in the risk of dementia.

Despite this, professionals still work hard to try and explain the connection between increased dementia risk and stress.

Below are some of the studies that have been conducted on the relationship between stress and dementia.

Studies

New research reported that PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) is a potential risk factor for dementia development.

PTSD is normally caused by childhood trauma, being a victim of abuse or violence, and traumatic experiences like war.

The study was the first to attempt to quantify the risk of developing dementia associated with post-traumatic stress disorder.

The team thoroughly searched around 8,000 papers to identify existing studies across the globe. Focusing on different populations examining the relationship between future dementia risk and PTSD.

Data collected from different studies indicated that PTDS was associated with increased dementia risk.

Post-traumatic stress disorder

The researchers concluded that post-traumatic stress disorder was a strong but modifiable risk factor for the progressive illness.

To identify if there is a potential link between stress and dementia, researchers from the University of Southampton in the UK in 2021 started a 3-year study. Investigating the effects of chronic stress on individuals with MCI (mild cognitive impairment) and a control group of 70 people over 50 years without any memory problems.

All the participants were assessed for STRESS LEVELS as well as any progression from mild cognitive impairment to dementia.

After years of following up, taking into consideration numerous factors, the study suggested that objective psychological stress is one of the risk factors for cognitive decline.

Stress, women and dementia

Another study also reported that midlife stress may increase the risk of developing dementia. Researchers came to this conclusion after conducting a study of 800 women living in Sweden.

The professionals followed the ladies for almost 4 decades.

Even though the study did not include men, the results suggested that stress may have long-term detrimental effects on everyone.

The researchers examined the long-term cognitive and medical health of the ladies.

The women underwent regular health assessments every 5-10 years including searching for symptoms of memory loss of Alzheimer’s and other dementia types.

When the study began the ladies were asked whether they had experienced MAJOR STRESSES like illness of a family member, divorce, or death of a child or spouse, and other sources of stress.

About 25% of the ladies had experienced a major life stressful experience. 23% had gone through two stressful events, 20% had experienced at least 3, while 16% had gone through 4 or more stressful experiences.

Around 1 in 5 women developed dementia during the follow-up period.

The ladies that reported the most stressful experiences in middle age were at 21% increased risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease in old age.

15% also recorded a higher risk of developing other dementia types.

The authors acknowledged that more studies need to be done to confirm the results.

Tips for Reducing Stress

tips for reducing stress
Seeing that there may be a connection between stress and dementia, it may be helpful to try and avoid or reduce stress as it may reduce the risk of developing dementia.

Some of the steps that people can take to help reduce stressful events include:

  • Identifying sources of stress and avoiding them
  • Addressing stress triggers and accepting help with the situations. People should aim to look for something positive even in the most difficult situations
  • Knowing limits and establishing boundaries
  • Changing stressful environments to an alternative that is quiet and relaxing
  • Identify relaxing techniques to adapt when feeling overwhelmed or stressed. This can be anything from meditation, yoga, exercising, journaling, listening to music, gardening, or watching TV, etc.
  • Talking to someone you trust about current feelings. It can be a friend, relative, or professional counselor
  • Take breaks as needed to help conserve energy
  • Letting things that are out of control go
  • Social engagement like joining a club (See our group activity recommendations)
  • Getting a pet
  • Sleep well
  • Eat healthy food
  • Take part in brain-stimulating activities like playing games

Stress and Dementia Closing Thoughts

Even though evidence points to a strong relationship between stress and dementia risk, more research needs to be done on this topic.

More conclusive results can help professionals come up with effective ways of preventing, managing, or treating dementia.

Bonus: What is Stress?

The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) describes stress as how the body and brain respond to any demand.

This can be any kind of challenges such as performance at school/work, traumatic event, or a significant life change. Symptoms of stress include sweating, pounding heart, and tense muscles amongst others.

These warning signs are supposed to disappear as soon as the danger passes, but some individuals experience stressed feelings for longer periods.

This can result in chronic or prolonged stress that can be severe and have serious effects on a person’s physical, mental, and emotional being.

12 Common Memory Loss Causes 2021

memory loss causes

To live a healthy and happy life, you need to be aware of the most common memory loss causes and try to eliminate them as soon as possible.

Almost everyone has experienced a degree of memory loss in their lifetime. It can be something as simple as forgetting where you put your house or car keys.

It can also be as serious as completely forgetting past experiences or failure to recall facts.

Episodes of memory loss are often associated with the development of dementia, especially as a person ages.

While this illness is responsible for multiple cases of memory loss, dementia is not always the sole cause. There are other reversible factors that can also stimulate memory loss.

The Most Common Memory Loss Causes

1. Stress

memory loss causes - stress
Too much stress may be one of the reasons you forget things. Stress overloads the mind and if left untreated, it can result in a myriad of issues including depression, diabetes, high blood pressure, brain drain, distractions, etc.

Persons undergoing stress are always tense, finding it difficult to focus; hence, the ability to remember suffers. Moderate stress often triggers short-term memory problems.

Exposure to chronic stress may escalate the risk of developing dementia.

It’s important to employ effective stress management strategies to enrich memory. This also helps to maintain and improve the health of the body, brain, and the quality of life.

2. Medications

medications
Several over-the-counter and prescription medicines are among the leading memory loss causes. Possible meds that may impair memory include:

  • Antihistamines
  • Muscle relaxants
  • Antidepressants
  • Anti-anxiety medicines
  • Sleeping pills
  • Diabetes medication
  • Cholesterol-lowering medicine
  • Tranquilizers
  • Some painkillers especially the ones that doctors administer after surgery, etc.

When seeing different doctors for various conditions, it is important that each professional knows the complete list of medication you are on. It’s the only way to avoid taking medicines that will interact with the ones that you are already taking.

You can also ask your physician whether he or she can adjust the medications you are taking to reduce confusion and forgetfulness.

3. Alcohol and Drug Abuse

alcohol and drug abuse a cause of memory loss
Chronic alcoholism and use of illicit drugs can affect your memory. From blacking out when you overindulge to amplified risk of dementia later on, alcohol and drugs have both instant and long-lasting memory loss effects.

Alcohol causes memory loss because it alters the hippocampus activities in the brain. Heavy drinking and the use of hard drugs interfere with the ability to create fresh long-term memories.

Studies show that men who drink heavily end up showing signs of mental decline years earlier than light drinkers.

The two are also known to be the cause of other health issues like liver failure, anemia, heart diseases, and so forth.

4. Nutritional Deficiency

nutritional deficiency
Your diet plays an important role in your ability to keep information and recall things. Lacking certain vitamins in the body are among the common memory loss causes that people experience.

An example is B12 an essential B vitamin that assists with regular nerve function.

When you lack this vitamin, it is easy to experience memory issues. In some cases, vitamin B12 deficit has shown symptoms that are easily mistaken for dementia.

The solution is to make sure you are getting enough B12 vitamin. You can get this from many sources like:

  • Fish
  • Dairy products
  • Meats
  • Foods fortified with vitamin B12

5. Traumatic Brain Injury

traumatic brain injury can cause memory loss
Memory issues are common in individuals who have TBI (traumatic brain injury). The injuries can damage sections of the brain that handle remembering and learning.

Generally, TBI affects newer memories more than the older ones. Some people may have problems remembering the exact cause of the injury. This means that the brain does not store specific injuries as a series of memory.

A majority of traumatic brain injury victims may not be able to store memories for some time after the injury.

Post-traumatic amnesia refers to the loss of consciousness from the TBI moment. It can last for a few minutes, weeks, or several months, depending on the severity of the brain injury.

6. Grief

grief
Grief is amongst the emotional memory loss causes that affects many people. When you lose someone or even something you love or feel closely connected to, your body will use up lots of emotional and physical energy as a coping mechanism.

This may end up reducing your ability to focus on current events or people around you.

Consequently, your memory may suffer. A person needs time to process grief.

To some extent, grief is similar to depression, only that it stems from an acute loss or specific situation.

Depression, on the other hand, may occur without any particular cause. Support groups and individual counseling can help you successfully deal with grief.

7. Smoking

smoking
Whilst some people smoke for fun, cigarettes can harm memory. This is because smoking reduces the amount of oxygen that travels to the brain.

Studies reveal that smoking, particularly during midlife, causes poor memory.

Additionally, it makes it harder for you to learn and think. Smoking when you are over thirty years damages blood vessels in your brain and the rest of the body.

Scientists recognize smoking as a top dementia risk factor. Researchers also conclude that people who smoke are at higher risk of heart diseases.

It is best to quit smoking if you want to enjoy better functioning memory and overall health.

8. Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI)

mild cognitive impairment MCI
MCI is at the top of the list when it comes to common cognitive memory loss causes. This is when you experience a decline in mental abilities that develop slowly without necessarily changing your ability to go about your day to day activities.

There are different types of MCI.

Amnestic mild cognitive impairment is the one most associated with memory loss.

Individuals with amnestic MCI tend to have more memory problems than others in their age group. Some of the signs of MCI are:

  • Forgetting to go to appointments or events
  • Frequently losing things
  • Having challenges coming up with words than other individuals of the same age

9. Sleep Deprivation

sleep deprivation
The perks of getting quality sleep are simply priceless. Among them include more energy, less weight gain, and most importantly the ability to think clearer.

Lack of adequate sleep can cause fatigue, which has been shown to affect both learning and memory.

If you find that you have trouble sleeping most nights, it is advisable to look for natural ways to improve sleeping habits.

This is not just light sleeping; you need to ensure that you are enjoying rapid eye movement sleep also known as deep sleep which plays a crucial role in memory.

It’s one of the best ways to help your brain retrieve and consolidate important information.

10. Silent Stroke

silent stroke
Perhaps one of the most surprising memory loss cause on this list is the silent stroke.

Noticeable changes in the ability to move and think to occur when a person suffers from strokes that block major blood vessels.

There is a high chance that you will experience mild memory problems after going through silent strokes that block blood vessels. This can change modify brain function.

Worth emphasizing is that your brain is vulnerable to reduced or blocked blood flow. This is because it denies the brain enough essential nutrients and oxygen.

Persons with memory loss are at higher risk of stroke.

11. Underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism)

underactive thyroid hypothyroidism
If a person experiences underactive thyroid or hypothyroidism, they do not feel very well both mentally and physically. Some of the main symptoms of hypothyroidism are gaining or losing weight, fatigue, poor sleep and tiredness.

For your information, underactive thyroid can also affect memory. That said, you need to understand that memory decrease does not always mean dementia or Alzheimer’s. When you assume it is hypothyroidism, a simple blood test will reveal the mystery.

From then on, with the appropriate treatment, you can alleviate the condition and bring back the old self.

If and when brain fog and forgetfulness appear, you should talk to your doctor as soon as possible.

12. Good fitness & exercise

good fitness exercise
It is common sense that exercise, activity and great fitness are essential for a healthy brain. Not just that, for healthy memory, too! If you exercise just for two and a half hours a week, you are better off than then the majority of the population.

Can you imagine, just 150 minutes, and you can already experience outstanding results. However, that is not the case for approx. 75% of the people over 65. As a matter of fact, they are either overweight or obese, and this happens to be one of the causes of memory loss.

To your luck, you need very little to start getting in shape, especially if you mix exercise with quality food – you are winning the game.

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