Caregiving does not cause depression. However, caregivers often overlook their own self-care because they are diligently trying to provide the best possible care for their loved ones.
Because depression is often seen as a sign of weakness, or because of embarrassment, caregivers might hide their feelings from others and continue to ignore the condition, and their mental health will suffer. Untreated depression can inhibit the caregiver’s ability to provide care to his or her loved one and affect physical health as well.
Caregivers should learn to recognize the signs of depression, such as feelings of sadness, hopelessness or helplessness; difficulty sleeping; feeling exhausted, overburdened or overwhelmingly stressed all the time.
If you have these feelings, that could be an indication you are suffering from some depression.
Studies have shown that caregivers, regardless of age, suffer from excess depression, medical illness and even mortality compared with noncaregivers.
Depression is typically diagnosed when signs and symptoms are consistently occurring throughout the day, every day, for an extensive period.
Individuals experience depression in various ways that can change over time. Pay attention to symptoms such as: fatigue and loss of energy; weight loss or weight gain; changes in appetite; anxiety and irritation; trouble concentrating; memory impairment; feelings of worthiness; guilt and self-blame; unexplained physical ailments; and even suicidal thoughts.
Oftentimes, caregivers set unrealistic expectations on themselves and their caregiving roles, and they lean toward perfection or compare themselves to other caregivers. These expectations can cause undue physical and emotional stress and strain, leading to depression.
Caregivers can reduce the risk of depression by enlisting the support of family and friends, participating in support groups or by using respite services that can give them a break.
Additionally, practicing self-care, such as implementing a routine of physical exercise, a healthy diet and keeping a regular sleep schedule, can be effective strategies in warding off the symptoms of depression.
Activities, including meditation, yoga and creative expression, and taking time out to enjoy community or cultural events, as well as socializing with friends can also reduce the risk of depression.
Further, being more informed and finding resources about Alzheimer’s disease will help the caregiver with tips and strategies for caring for his or her loved one, which can reduce the stresses of caregiving that leads to depression.
For the caregiver’s health and the health of his or her loved one, it’s important for the caregiver to see a doctor to get a proper diagnosis. Whether the caregiver is assessed by a primary care provider, a psychiatrist, psychologist or other mental health professional, an accurate diagnosis can open the door to receiving treatment and counseling and put you on the road to a healthy recovery and a better sense of well-being.
Questions about Alzheimer’s disease or related disorders can be sent to Dana Territo, the Memory Whisperer, owner of Dana Territo Consulting, LLC, at [email protected].