The latest report of Alzheimers Disease Facts and Figures confirms the heavy toll the disease is taking on the 15 million family members and friends who are the unpaid caregivers of those who suffer with the illness. The report also states that the majority of those who look after Alzheimers patients are women fifty-five years or older.
These caregivers total over 17 billion hours of assistance; the study estimates if they were being paid, the bill for the care they offer would be over $200 billion.
Not surprisingly, often the act of caring for a sick family member or friend takes precedence over the caregivers own health. More than three out of every five caregivers reports high to very high mental and/or physical stress. Sixty-five percent are classified as overweight or obese.
How can caregivers protect their own health? Experts recommend that you take ten minute mini-workouts throughout the day. Regular exercise not only keeps you fit, it releases endorphins that keep you happy. Ten minute sessions sprinkled over the course of the day are easier to block out than an hour away. Check out videos, websites and television shows that offer routines.
Eat a healthy diet. Try to stay away from fast-cooking processed foods and sugary treats. Instead eat plenty of fresh fruits, vegetables and whole grains.
Keep some fun in your day. Join an online scrabble tournament, practice your golf swing, or master the yo-yo. A daily dose of fun is good medicine, and doesnt require money, a car, or huge blocks of time. If your loved one is in the early stages of the disease include them in short walks, board games or scrabble.Do something new. Even while youre caring for a loved one, find the time to learn something new. For example, try a foreign language program that allows you to go at your own pace or try teaching yourself to sing or play an instrument. With only small blocks of free time, you can still master a new skill.Feed your sense of humor. Laughing is a well-known antidote to stress, sadness, illness, and boredom. Give yourself permission to laugh out loud at the absurdities you and your loved one experience. Rent comedies rather than melodramas and opt for light-hearted reading material, too.Ask for help. Studies show that those with strong support systems, creative respite arrangements, and regular time away not only fare better but find more satisfaction in their caretaking roles. Join a support group, schedule frequent breaks, and seek professional help if you need it.Robin Westen is ThirdAges medical reporter. Check for her daily updates. She is the author of Relationship Repair.See what others have to say about this story or leave a comment of your own.