305 West End Assisted Living Blog

Social Isolation and Self-Care: Caring for the Alzheimer’s Caregiver

Alzheimer’s caregiver staring out the window feeling effect of social isolation

In this new blog series, The Caregiver’s Toolkit for Alzheimer’s and Dementia, we offer in-depth resources for those caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s or dementia.
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As a caregiver for a loved one with Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia, you wear many hats. And as you run errands, bring your loved one to appointments, prepare meals, and supervise, you may start to find that you have time for little else - including social connection.

You aren’t alone in this feeling: A study released by the Alzheimer’s Association found that two-thirds of caregivers feel isolated.

Social isolation can occur when friends and family members drift away from the caregiver or are unable to understand the challenges they face. Sometimes it is the result of too much to do and too little time. And sometimes, it’s self-imposed, as caregivers unwittingly separate themselves from their social circle or don’t want to ask for help.

Learn more about why preventing social isolation is so important, and find strategies for coping.

Effects of Social Isolation Among Caregivers

Many caregivers don’t want to, or simply cannot, take time for themselves. They may not have someone to look after their loved one on a regular basis. Or they may feel guilty at the prospect of spending time on themselves instead of their loved one.

However, social connection and relationships should not be viewed as indulgences. They are essential to one’s health and well-being. One study found that being socially isolated can have health consequences equivalent to smoking 15 cigarettes a day. Loneliness can significantly increase the risk of depression and may lead to poor sleep, impaired immunity, and accelerated cognitive decline.

Consider also that taking care of yourself will help you recharge and be better able to care for your loved one. It’s a win-win situation.

Preventing Social Isolation

Isolation doesn’t occur overnight. It’s often a result of slow changes over time - a missed phone call here, a canceled coffee date there.

Identifying the Problem

The first step in remedying this problem is by realizing that one exists. Think back over the past few days, weeks, or months and ask yourself:

  • Have I spent time having non-caregiving-related conversations with a friend or family member?
  • Have I taken a few moments for myself to unwind and recharge?

If the answer is no, you may need to ask yourself why that is. Do you truly have no time to spare? Or could you work time into your schedule for a quick text or phone call? Quality over quantity is key. Even small sprinklings of conversation throughout the day can help.

Planning and Support

As you plan your day, be sure to include designated times when you will engage in social connection. You should be as attentive to scheduling time for yourself as you are in scheduling time to take care of your loved one.

Also ensure that your social circle includes those who genuinely care for and understand you. Spend your time with people who respect your caregiving journey and are willing to support you throughout it. This could also mean joining a support group, such as one formed by your local chapter of The Alzheimer’s Association, where you’ll meet other caregivers who understand your challenges.

Self-Care and Respite Resources for Caregivers

Sometimes, there is simply no time for the caregiver because they are the sole provider of care for their loved one. In this case, respite care can be beneficial.

Respite care can take place over a few hours, days, weeks, or even months, depending on your location. The goal is to provide you with a break to spend however you choose. Perhaps you just need a few hours to run errands or spend time with family. Or maybe you are planning a trip and need someone to care for your loved one while you are away.

The National Institute on Aging has collected information on several resources you can use to locate respite care in your area. Depending on the option you choose, it can be provided at home, in a nursing community, or at an adult day center.

A consistent self-care routine – even if it is only a few minutes at the beginning or end of the day – is essential for caregivers. Meditation, reading, journaling, participating in a stimulating physical or mental activity – are just some of the ways caregivers can relax and recharge.

Get more self-care suggestions here>>

Additional Resources for Caregivers

Caregiving can be a challenging, yet ultimately joyful, journey. Know that you are not alone and that resources are available to help. Browse our previous articles for caregivers, or enter your email address in the subscription box at the top right to receive regular resources like these.

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