The dementia caregiver’s facts are alarming. The risk for developing dementia are six times higher, for those providing care for a family member, with dementia, than the average population. This is due to the negative impact of chronic stress.
A study from the Utah State University reported in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society followed 1,200 couples for a period of 12 years. The average couple was married over 48 years and none of the individuals in the study were diagnosed with dementia, when the study started. This was the first study of its kind to explore the risk of developing dementia in spouses providing care for a spouse with this diagnosis.
Over the time of the study, 225 couples had one or both of the spouses develop dementia. In 125 cases ,the husband developed dementia, in 70 cases, the wife developed dementia and 30 cases had both spouses diagnosed with a type of dementia. Other past studies had already identified that providing care for a spouse, with dementia, leads to increased chance of depression and cognitive decline, such as problems with memory and retaining new information.
The study did identify that men had a higher risk of developing dementia than women, after their partners were diagnosed. The researchers of the study concluded, that the caregiver burden of watching a spouse decline was stressful and caused chronic stress.
More on Dementia Caregiver Facts: Are You at Risk for Dementia?…
How chronic caregiver stress increases the chances for developing dementia starts by understanding the brain and hormone levels. Providing dementia care at home puts a family member at a high risk for developing depression and many other medical problems.
When a family member provides long term care at home, the physical and emotional toll causes an increase in the release of the stress hormone, cortisol. This hormone travels through the blood stream, as well as into the brain. The hippocampal area of the brain is also affected. This is the area of the brain where memories are stored. The increased cortisol actually kills brain cells in the memory center.
Caregivers are already at high risk for depression and a poor sense of self worth, as they put the needs of their spouse, ahead of their own health and well being. Many family caregivers lose a sense of self, a sense of purpose, except for their caregiving duties.
The good news is, that dementia prevention is possible. It means learning stress management techniques and protecting your own mental health.
Stay active and keep your spouse active, for as long as possible. It is so important for a person diagnosed with dementia to stay active and mentally stimulated. So get out of the house and do some things that allows you “me time”. This may mean having to place your spouse, with dementia, in adult day care or encouraging them to go to the local senior center, or asking a friend to come in and stay when you are out.
Do something for yourself EVERYDAY. Take a walk, have lunch with a friend. It is important to find some joy and enjoyment in life, for your own mental and physical well being.
Take time to learn about your approaches to caring can actually slow the cognitive decline of your family member and slow or prevent dementia in the caregiver, by practicing a mindful approach to caring.
Practice guided imagery and mediation. Studies have shown that mediation improves the emotional health and well being of caregivers.
Maintain a brain and health healthy diet. Eating a nutrient rich diet, such as the Mediterranean diet promotes good heart and brain health.
Continue to build your cognitive reserve. This can be done by being physically active, doing something new and different everyday, practicing mindful living. This means living in the moment and utilizing all of your senses, by noticing that details of your surroundings. Building up your cognitive reserve is like building muscle when you exercise. This will delay or prevent the signs and symptoms of dementia from developing.