Are you taking care of a loved one with memory loss? If so, are you taking care of you? Learning to care for yourself is one of the greatest challenges in caregiving. Here are a few statistics that speak to the importance and difficulty of caring for you, the caregiver:
- Caring for people with dementia is reported to impact a person’s immune system for up to 3 years after their caregiving experience ends, thus increasing their chances of developing a chronic illness themselves [The National Alliance for Caregiving and AARP (2009)].
- Alzheimer’s and dementia caregivers had $9.3 million in additional health care costs of their own in 2013 (Alzheimer’s Association 2014 Facts and Figures Report ).
- 16% of caregivers working full time have a Physical Health Index (PHI) score of 77.4%, which is significantly lower than 83.0% for noncaregivers (Gallup Healthways Wellbeing Survey).
So what do you do? Feelings of guilt, shame and worry may be familiar to the burned-out caregiver, but they are not healthy or successful motivators for positive change and self-care. Mindfulness offers a kinder, more effective path.
The benefits of mindfulness
Mindfulness is the practice of bringing awareness to the present moment, without judgment. Practicing a moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations and surroundings in a nonjudgmental, accepting manner is simple, but not easy. Caregivers can learn to respond to distressing thoughts and moments with greater equanimity and presence.
Stressors may persist, but we can greatly improve how we respond to stress in the midst of caregiving. Caregivers of adults with memory loss who practice mindfulness report:
- Increased quality-of-life ratings
- Fewer symptoms of depression
- Better subjective sleep quality
- Improved ability to cope with stressful situations
MADC research-based programs for caregivers
The Michigan Alzheimer’s Disease Center (MADC) is involved in many areas of Alzheimer’s and memory loss research, including the effect of caregiving on the caregivers themselves. We’re working to find out how to give caregivers more tools to take care of themselves before they become too physically or emotionally ill.
We’ve found that teaching overwhelmed caregivers to slow down in the midst of a busy day and intentionally, consciously take time for themselves can be transformative. But how can you possibly take time for yourself when you’re so busy taking care of your loved one? Here are a few pathways we’ve created for you to explore:
- Catching Your Breath – A free monthly program for learning and practicing stress resilience skills for continued health, balance and well-being.
- Catching Your Breath Retreats – Half-day wellness, creativity and social retreats for care partners of adults with memory loss.
- Mindfulness-Based Dementia Care – An 8-week program for family members caring for a person with memory loss, in which they can learn how the practice of mindfulness can help them cope with the challenges and stresses of dementia care.
- Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) – A well-researched and celebrated class with thousands of participants around the globe. There are several classes in the community. Currently, the MADC is teaching MBSR to adults with mild memory loss.
If you’re a caregiver, we hope to see you at our programs for care partners. If you know a caregiver, please share this information. These programs provide the invitation, environment and opportunity to learn self-care in a sustainable, uplifting way.
Rather than thinking of taking care of yourself as one more thing to do, know that it is possible to develop stress resilience skills in the midst of what you’re already doing as a busy caregiver. We invite you to take the next step.
U-M program for adults with memory loss
If you need a meaningful and engaging place for your family member to go while you’re attending one of these programs, you can take advantage of the Geriatrics Center Silver Club Memory Loss Programs, designed for adults with mild to moderate memory loss.
Take the next step
- Visit the MADC community calendar for more information about care partner activities.
- Join a research study for caregivers of people with memory loss.
- Visit the Silver Club Memory Programs for more information about activities for adults with memory loss or call 734-998-9352.
- Call the U-M Michigan Alzheimer’s Disease Center at 734-936-8803 to register for or learn more about Catching Your Breath or Mindfulness-Based Dementia Care.
Laura Rice Oeschger has been involved in memory care for 19 years. Her passion for wellness and the expressive arts stems from wisdom shared by adults living courageously with dementia, their care partners and her own personal experience with family caregiving. She is a national and state-wide presenter on the topics of wellness and contemplative care in caregiving and living with cognitive loss.
The Michigan Alzheimer’s Disease Center (MADC) was established at the University of Michigan Health System through affiliation with the Department of Neurology and aims to conduct and promote research on Alzheimer’s disease and related disorders; ensure state-of-the-art care for individuals experiencing cognitive impairment or dementia; and enhance the public’s and health professionals’ understanding of dementia through education and outreach efforts. The infrastructure of the Center stems from a 20-year history as an NIH-funded Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center.