We know that Alzheimer’s is likely caused by the accumulation of plaque that slowly disrupts the signaling between neurons in the brain, and that the risks for the disease increases with age. But very little else is known about its origins and course, nor how to slow down the damage it creates to memory and cognition. — Vivian Diller Ph.D.
A diagnosis of dementia or Alzheimer’s isn’t something that’s easy to take. You can say once Alzheimer’s sets in, there are two or more patients: the person with the condition and their caregivers. Often, caregivers are direct members of the family. They can also be close friends.
While caregivers do not physically have Alzheimer’s, they are affected mentally and emotionally. Let’s take a look at the impact Alzheimer’s has on the mental health of these caregivers.
One effect that Alzheimer’s has on friends and family is increased stress. It comes with the responsibility of caring for the patient. Because they’re part of the family, they feel that they must take care of their loved one. They feel obligated to do so and may experience caregiver burden.
Too much stress can lead to other issues such as depression, anxiety, and even physical illness. It can cause a lot of frustration. Too much pressure can also lead to relationships becoming strained and further emotional turmoil.
As mentioned earlier, anxiety can stem from the stress of having to care for a patient. Friends and family constantly worry over the state of their loved one, especially when Alzheimer’s appears to be in its later stages. They ask themselves questions such as, “will they still remember me tomorrow?” “Will they be okay when I’m not around?” “Do they still value and love me the same way?”
Anxiety also comes from the fear that the patient may somehow harm themselves when the caregiver isn’t around. This also gives the family a feeling of guilt when they are unable to watch over the patient consistently.
Sense Of Isolation
With the nature of Alzheimer’s disease, the patient’s ability to live an independent life is very limited. In the later stages, they will be dependent on others in being able to accomplish tasks that were once easy. Because of this, the caregiver’s freedom also becomes somewhat limited.
Caregivers make a lot of sacrifices when caring for their loved ones. They won’t be able to go out with friends as often, and some even leave their career to care for the patient full-time. They thus feel isolated. Their world will begin to center around their patient. Although they care for their loved one, not having time for yourself can be psychologically draining.
Depression itself, as we all know, is a disorder that can have hugely disabling effects on careers, relationships and, above all, on quality of life. That is bad enough: add to this the prospect of later life being disfigured by dementia, and you have a trajectory that no-one would want. — Joe Herbert M.B, Ph.D.
Risk Of Depression
And of course, there’s also depression. It would be heartbreaking to anyone to find out that their loved one’s mind is slowly deteriorating. It’s like watching them regress into childhood, thinking like children but not in a happy way.
The feeling of sadness stems from losing so much with an Alzheimer’s diagnosis. Family and friends feel sympathy for the patient who knows that they will be slowly losing their mental capacities. It is known as anticipatory grief.
There’s also the loss over their past relationship with the patient. As Alzheimer’s progresses, they will start to forget the memories and relationship that you shared. It also means there is a change in social roles. For children, they will no longer have a rock to lean on. Instead, they become the ones who give care to their parents. Hence, it can be a difficult switch for anyone.
In short, Alzheimer’s is an emotional challenge not only for the patients but also for the loved ones. You can manage emotional turmoil by also managing your expectations. It does not bode well to worry about things that are about to happen. It’s about learning to accept that certain things will happen and that there are things that are beyond our control.
Focus on cherishing the moments you had with your loved one instead of mourning over them. It’s also during this time that it pays to be close to the ones you love. It’s about helping each other through this challenging stage of life and drawing strength from the love that you share.
And as a caregiver, remember that your duty isn’t only to your patient but also yourself.