Published on: December 24, 2013
by Fiesta Gardens for U~T San Diego:
Seventy percent of people with dementia are taken care of for the entirety of their disease by family caregivers. The responsibilities and challenges that come with care giving can be overwhelming and stressful.
Stephen Zarit, Ph.D., professor of human development at Pennsylvania State University, has been studying caregivers for more than 30 years. He says that between 40 and 70 percent of caregivers are significantly stressed. Moreover, half of these seriously stressed caregivers “meet the diagnostic criteria for major depression.”
The symptoms of depression can creep up on caregivers with little notice to their condition. Due to the physical and emotional symptoms the caregiver experiences, depression sets in and can be extreme and persistent.
Diane Darby Beach, MPH, Ed.D., director of education and outreach for Vista Gardens Memory Care Community, talks about the challenges, stress and depression often experienced by caregivers of family members with dementia.
Symptoms of major depression include:
• Feelings of hopelessness or pessimism.
• Sad, anxious or “empty” feelings.
• Loss of interest in once pleasurable hobbies or activities, including sex.
• Irritability, restlessness and anxiety.
• Feelings of guilt, worthlessness or helplessness. Persistent aches or pains, headaches, cramps or digestive problems that do not ease, even with treatment.
• Overeating or appetite loss.
• Fatigue and decreased energy.
• Difficulty concentrating, remembering details and making decisions.
• Insomnia, waking up during the night or excessive sleeping.
• Thoughts of suicide or suicide attempts.
People caring for a loved one with dementia may also encounter “ambiguous grief.” Specifically, the person with dementia is “here” in body, yet absent from relationships and many aspects of daily living. As such, the family caregiver is caring and simultaneously grieving. This dual process creates yet another level of stress which leads to depression.
Recognizing the depression the caregiver is experiencing is the first step to preventing it. Here are some other things you can do to prevent caregiver depression:
Talk about your feelings, frustrations and fears with family, friends or a mental health professional.
Recognize that you are not alone; attend a support group to vent and hear from others in similar situations.
Take time for yourself; meet a friend for lunch, take a class or participate in a hobby.
Exercise! Physical activity produces dopamine and endorphins. You will feel better.
Breathe! When you are feeling overwhelmed, take a “time out” and force yourself to take three deep breaths.
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