The Caregiver’s Risk for Dementia

Taking care of a loved one with dementia can take a huge toll on your own health, and according to a recent study, chronic stress may put caregivers at risk of developing dementia themselves. Caregiving already puts you at risk for developing depression and other health problems, but stress in particular can affect the hippocampus area in your brain. This is the area where memories are stored. When you are under chronic stress from a responsibility such as caregiving, your body produces the stress hormone cortisol, which travels through the blood to every area of your body. “It kills brain cells by the thousands or millions, especially in the memory center of the brain,” Dr. Khalsa, founding president and medical director of the Alzheimer’s Research and Prevention Foundation in Tucson, AZ, says. Caregivers of spouses with dementia are especially at risk because their psychological well-being plummets, he says. It can be easy for you to lose touch with your own life and lose a sense of purpose other than taking care of your spouse.
Controlling your stress level is important for protecting your own mental health. You can lower your cortisol and stress levels, and improve your well-being by trying out these tips:
• Keep your spouse active while you take a break: It is healthy for people with dementia to stay active and be stimulated. That is why it is important to get your spouse out of the house to spend time at a senior center or go to the movies with a friend. This will give you some valuable “me time”, while your loved one is out of the house.
• Do something for yourself every day: Whether it is getting a massage, grabbing dinner with a friend or doing yoga, know that it is essential to your health to do something you enjoy every day.
• Work on your physical health: To help you stay healthy physically and mentally, try a nutrient-rich diet, such as the Mediterranean diet which is full of fruits and vegetables and limited red meat.
• Try meditation: Meditation has been shown to improve stress levels and feelings of well-being.
• Build your cognitive reserve: You might have heard that doing crossword puzzles or word games are good for your brain, however, Khalsa says that novel experiences are what really help a person’s memory. Try going to the museum with a friend and talking about the exhibit afterward, get involved with a hobby, creating art, playing music, or simply taking a walk and noting your environment.



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