Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy and Caregiver Mental Health

If you are caring for a child with Duchenne muscular dystrophy, it’s important to care for yourself.

To reduce stress and help avoid caregiver burnout, you might consider stress-reducing activities like meditation, breathing exercises, gentle stretching, or listening to relaxing music.

Finding out that a child has Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD) is an emotional, stressful, and challenging experience for parents and caregivers. DMD is a genetic disorder that begins before the age of six and causes loss of muscle strength and muscle mass. It progresses quickly, often leading to disability and other complications by adolescence. Those who have DMD will require ongoing care, and the type of care they require will change as the disease progresses.

Taking care of yourself

If you find yourself acting as a caregiver for a child with DMD, taking care of your physical and mental health needs to be a priority. Caring for a child with DMD is a different experience for everyone, and different people will have different needs and coping mechanisms that work for them. Here are a few ideas to keep in mind and some areas of your life to prioritize:

  • Remember, to be an effective caregiver, you need to prioritize your own physical health.
  • Keep up with your own healthcare, including checkups, dentist visits, and any providers you see to manage health conditions or concerns.
  • Eat a nutritious diet. This can be difficult, especially when there are too few hours in the day and junk food is easily accessible.
  • Stay active, even if it’s just making time for a walk or a few minutes of exercise.
  • Get enough sleep, pay attention to your sleep habits, and talk to your healthcare provider if you are having difficulty sleeping or do not feel rested after sleep.
  • Stay organized, including finances, healthcare-related paperwork, and your day-to-day schedule.
  • Mental health should also be a priority. Counseling and therapy can provide strategies for dealing with difficult emotions and stress.
  • Speaking of stress, you might consider stress-reducing activities, like meditation, breathing exercises, gentle stretching, or listening to relaxing music.
  • Remember that you are not alone. Ask your child’s healthcare team about support groups for parents and caregivers for children with DMD or other conditions that require similar levels of care.
  • Ask for help when you need it. Being a caregiver is a demanding role that takes time and energy—sometimes more time and energy than one person has available.
  • Take a break to do something for yourself. Even something simple like going to a movie, making a date with a friend, or getting a dessert can boost your mood and reduce stress.
  • Stay in touch with friends and family.

Caregiver burnout

Caregiver burnout is a state of exhaustion, where a caregiver begins to experience problems with their own mental, emotional, and physical health. It occurs when the demands of caregiving—as well as all the demands of other areas of life—become too much.

The strategies discussed in the section above can help a person avoid burnout. As a caregiver for a child with a condition like DMD, it’s important to recognize the signs of burnout. Recognizing what burnout can look like can help you address it as early as possible, so that you can get back to feeling like yourself.

While burnout affects different caregivers in different ways, these are some of the common symptoms:

  • Feeling exhausted, both physically and emotionally
  • Increased irritability, impatience, or other negative feelings toward the person being cared for
  • Difficulty sleeping or experiencing sleep disturbances
  • Decreased interest in activities that were once enjoyable
  • Neglecting one's own personal needs, such as not eating properly or neglecting personal hygiene
  • Physical symptoms, such as headaches, stomachaches, or other unexplained aches and pains
  • Anxiety, depression, feelings of hopelessness, low self-esteem
  • Difficulty concentrating or focusing on tasks
  • Social isolation or withdrawing from friends and family
  • Use of alcohol or other substances as a coping mechanism
  • Decreased work performance or missing days from work

Although demanding and stressful, caregiving for a person with DMD can also be a rewarding and fulfilling experience. While there is no known cure for DMD, there are treatments that can help people with DMD live a better quality of life.

There is also reason to be hopeful about the future of treatment. Researchers are continuing to learn more about DMD, with multiple therapies available and more under development.

Article sources open article sources

National Organization for Rare Disorders. Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy.
NIH Genetic and Rare Diseases Information Center. Duchenne muscular dystrophy.
UCSF Health. Patient Education: Self-Care for Caregivers.
Harvard Health Publishing. Self-care for the caregiver.
Mayo Clinic. Caregiver stress: Tips for taking care of yourself.
Cleveland Clinic. Caregiver Burnout.
Johns Hopkins Medicine. Causes and Symptoms of Caregiver Burnout.
MedlinePlus. Caregiver Health.
Penn Medicine. The Reality of Being a Caregiver: Signs of Stress and How to Prevent Burnout.
Parent Project Muscular Dystrophy. Drug Development Pipeline.

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