Family Caregiver Stress and What to Do About It

If you have an older parent with Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia who’s living in their own home, chances are someone in your family is caring for them in some way. They’re checking in on them from time to time, helping them with things like groceries, taking them to doctor’s appointments, coordinating home care or other community services, and maybe even helping them with some of their personal care.

It’s easy to discount the importance of this type of support. Generally, families step up to support their aging parents without much consideration. It’s simply something you do for someone you love.

As a result, family caregivers are frequently taken for granted.

The primary caregiver

Often, there’s one person who takes on the bulk of caregiving responsibilities within a family, the primary caregiver. It could be a spouse, an adult child, or someone else who assumes the role without fanfare or even any discussion. They simply do what has to be done. Think about who’s taken on that role within your own family. Maybe it’s you.

Primary caregivers don’t always recognize the strain they’re under. And if they do, they may feel they have no choice but to soldier on. After all, the person they’re looking after has more serious problems than they do. Who are they to complain? 

And because they don’t complain, other members of the family may not recognize the stress they’re under. And make no mistake, they’re under stress, whether they seem to be coping or not. That kind of prolonged responsibility – on top of the other responsibilities in their life – can quietly take a toll on their health.

And then one day, without warning, they may reach a breaking point. They get sick. Or they have an emotional meltdown. And all of a sudden, they can’t continue doing what they’ve been doing to support your parent.

Family in crisis

That’s when your family is left scrambling, trying to desperately figure out who will look after Mom or Dad now. No one seems to have a complete picture of what needs to be done. Your parent isn’t coping any longer. It’s only now becoming clear just how much the primary caregiver did for them. And how much their dementia has progressed.

Your family is forced into making important life decisions without much time or information available. If no one else from your family can step in to fill the caregiving gap, your parent may be forced to leave their current home. This can be especially stressful if they resist the idea of moving.

Don’t be blindsided

So, how do you avoid something like this happening to your family? 

Don’t wait for a crisis to happen. Take the following proactive steps.

  1. Identify who in your family is providing support to your parent. Is there a primary caregiver?
  2. Take stock of all the support they’re providing. It may be practical, emotional, or financial support. Remember, if something were to happen to the primary caregiver, you’ll need to know what gaps to fill. And you may not have a lot of time to figure it out.
  3. Rally around the primary caregiver. Acknowledge the importance of what they do and the toll it’s taking on them (even if they don’t acknowledge it themselves). Help them find community services that will ease their burden. Figure out ways to help them take a break. Don’t wait for them to burn out! If you’re the primary caregiver, acknowledge the toll it’s taking on you and reach out for help. 
  4. Have a plan B Discuss what happens in the event the primary caregiver can’t continue in their role. What community support could be called in? Would a move be necessary? If so, where to? Start investigating these options now. Be sure to involve your parent in these discussions, if possible. 

You may want to consider involving a professional when it comes to drawing up your plan B, someone who can help you fully explore your options and guide you through what might be an awkward discussion with your parent.

That’s where we can help. Plan B may involve your parent moving to a retirement home with assisted living or memory care. If you’re not familiar with those terms, download our free guide to memory care.

We can provide guidance on how to have the discussion with your parent and other members of your family. That’s because we support families affected by dementia every day. Contact us. We’re here to help.

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