A Lifeboat for the Caregiver

A Lifeboat for the Caregiver

Taking care of a loved one with dementia can be a grueling task, but meditation and support can lighten the load.

Right now, five million Americans are caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s disease or another form of dementia. The immense burden sets them up for stress, anxiety, depression, and the deterioration of their own physical health. That’s why a recently launched Alzheimer’s and Dementia Care program at the University of California, Los Angeles, treats not just the patients but also the caregivers.

Linda Ercoli, director of geriatric psychology at UCLA and a leader of the program, says she and her colleagues had noticed that some caregivers they see are at the end of their rope, while others manage much better. “Their situations are not different, but their perceptions are,” says Ercoli.

Try these tips from the program to back away from your own breaking point.

● Redefine “help.” If you can’t afford a professional caregiver, think about other ways people can support you. Can a friend assist with grocery shopping, or members of your church group help with the housekeeping?

● Look for uplifts. “Uplifts” means finding something positive in what you’re doing, says Ercoli. “Maybe you are learning from the experience, or making good karma for yourself.”

● Have a spiritual outlet. “Spirituality plays a protective role against developing depression and many health problems,” says Dr. Helen Lavretsky, a professor and geriatric psychiatrist at UCLA. If church or temple isn’t for you, use yoga, which can be done in short segments and practiced at home.

● Meditate. Lavretsky’s research showed that 12 minutes a day of
Kirtan Kriya meditation, using the mantra “Sa-Ta-Na-Ma,” boosts the immune system and lowers inflammation levels.

● Talk it out. Look for a support group, like the one Ercoli facilitates with Patti Davis, the daughter of President Ronald Reagan, who died from complications of Alzheimer’s. Davis “has been through it, navigated the stress of that situation, and knows a lot about it,” Ercoli says.

● Connect in new ways. “Find fulfilling ways of relating to your loved one,” says Ercoli, “because the expectation that you’re going to have the same kind of relationship with the person that you used to have, it gets in the way.”

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