Caregivers of Alzheimer’s Patients Shouldn’t Overlook Their Own Health: A Nutritionist’s View
When we think about Alzheimer’s disease, we often focus solely on the patient. However, the health of the caregiver is important as well.
A caregiver is someone who attends to a patient’s needs and wants on a daily basis, a task that may end up becoming a full-time occupation. Often overlooked, caregivers bear the emotional, as well as physical, burden as the patients’ condition worsens over time.
Symptoms of stress in a caregiver can include denial, anger, isolation, depression, exhaustion, brain fog, and health problems. A 2011 literature review found that “caregivers reported poorer perceived health, more chronic illness such as hyper-tension and have an increased risk of poor wound healing.”
The reason for this is that the physiological stress of caregiving triggers the sympathetic nervous system to turn on. This means the body is in a heightened activity mode — raising blood pressure and releasing hormones to combat the perceived danger.
When this system is activated long term without any “real” danger to face, the body begins to adjust to this “new normal.” Unfortunately, adjusting typically means lowered immunity, increased blood pressure, and depressive symptoms. Caregivers experiencing emotional or physical strain were found to have a 63% higher mortality than caregivers without strain or non-caregivers, according to the review.
The first step in supporting caregivers is acknowledging that their job has its own health risks. It is essential that preservation of self-care is made a priority and that the caregiver has the proper support and tools to do so.
It is key for caregivers to maintain a healthy diet for overall physical and emotional wellness. Below are some tips to ensure caregivers are receiving adequate nutrition.
- Don’t skip meals.
- Drink half your body weight in ounces of water daily.
- Consume at least 8-10 cups of vegetables daily. Half should be greens.
- Try to eat warm meals.
- Specific nutrients help with lowering stress:
- B vitamins: grass-fed beef, liver, poultry, spirulina, green leafy vegetables help to regulate mood, bust stress, and boost cellular energy
- C vitamins: citrus and other fruits — apples, bananas, and oranges, etc.
- Magnesium: sprouted seeds (pumpkin, chia, flax, sesame, sunflower, etc.), sprouted nuts, avocado, chard, figs, and sea vegetables to calm the nerves
- A vitamins: cheese, eggs, fish with oil, milk, etc.
- Proteins: bone broth, beef and chicken liver, grass-fed meat from bison and beef, wild game, and wild-caught fish to support metabolism and hormone balance
Mental Health Support
Learning to take time for yourself, even for just a few minutes, can make a big difference. Applying relaxation techniques can help with the overactive planning mind that is worrying about the care of the patient.
- Visualization: Imagining yourself somewhere peaceful or with a person who brings you peace.
- Meditation: Allowing yourself to concentrate on the breath while your thoughts and emotions come and go. Feel and observe them with detachment and notice how calm can arise. You can practice from five to 20 minutes.
- Breathing exercises: Inhale for four counts through the nose. Hold for seven counts, and exhale through the mouth for eight counts.
- Progressive muscle relaxation: Tightening and then relaxing each muscle group, starting at one end of your body and working your way to the other end.
Remembering that caring for yourself as a caregiver can often feel like a selfish act when, in fact, the opposite is true. It is critical to prioritize nutrition and mental health strategies as a means to ensure not only the longevity of those you care for, but for yourself as well.
Alana Kessler, MS, RD, CDN, E-RYT, is a registered dietitian, nutritionist, weight management expert, and an accredited member of the CDR (Commission on Dietetic Registration) and the American Dietetic Association. She is also a yoga and meditation teacher, Ayurveda specialist, and the founder of the New York City-based fully integrated mind, body, and spirit urban sanctuary, BE WELL. Alana’s BE WELL ARC System and Method Mapping technique is a holistic multidisciplinary approach to health and wellness that blends Eastern and clinical Western diet and lifestyle support to effect long-lasting behavior change.
A graduate of NYU with a BA and MS in clinical nutrition, Alana is dedicated to helping others learn how to nourish themselves, create balance, and understand their true nature through nutrition, yoga, and inner wellness. She leads Yin Yoga workshops and trainings as well as wellness retreats at international locations. Her health, fitness, and lifestyle expertise has been featured in Aaptiv.com, Droz.com, EatThis.com, RD.com, Redbook, WomensHealthmag.com, and Vogue. For more information, visit her website at bewellbyak.com.