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Caring for Family Caregivers of Dementia Patients

Caring for Family Caregivers of Dementia Patients

Caregivers for relatives with dementia have an increased risk for depression, anxiety and suicide—here’s what you can do to help.

In the 2015 film, Still Alice, Julianne Moore plays a beautiful and successful woman who’s diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. The film tracks her journey with compassion and honesty and provides a startling picture of the often-overlooked toll that dementia takes on family caregivers.

There are approximately 16 million caregivers in the U.S. responsible for the wellbeing of a relative or friend with dementia. And the role is so taxing that they’re at an increased risk for depression, anxiety and suicide and—astonishingly and importantly—40 percent of primary caregivers die before the person for whom they’re caring.

As Jamie Tyron and dementia specialist Dr. Marwan Sabbagh write in Fighting for My Life: How To Thrive In The Shadow of Alzheimer’s: “You cannot underestimate how stressful it is being a caregiver, and how it can negatively impact your own health.”  Fortunately, there are ways to ease the strain, stay alive and even thrive.

A study published in Health Psychology shows that there are effective ways to ease caregiver burnout. For over six weeks, the researchers had people focus on positive emotions by:

  1. Recognizing a positive event each day
  2. Keeping a gratitude journal
  3. Practicing mindful meditation and controlled breathing for 10 minutes daily

Participants had a seven-percent reduction in depression and a nine-percent reduction in anxiety compared to caregivers who were not in the program.

So, if you’re a caregiver, try these techniques or seek caregiver support from a healthcare professional.

Medically reviewed in January 2020.

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