Family caregiving comes in all shapes and sizes – from light duties like helping an aging parent with grocery shopping and doctor’s appointments, to more skilled nursing care like managing medicines, changing feeding tubes, and dressing bed sores. Both types can be wrought with anxiety, stress, and their own set of frustrations, for both caregiver and loved one. For a handful of specific cases involving memory loss and cognitive decline, addressing the causes of anxiety and relieving the associated stress and pain is possible with noninvasive and oftentimes, non-pharmacological means.
How can family caregivers address anxiety?
The mental degradation brought on by age-related diseases like Alzheimer’s and dementia can result in memory loss that in the early to late stages causes panic, frustration, confusion, and anxiety for everyone involved. Here are a few proven nonmedicinal paths towards relieving anxiety and stress, and boosting mood:
Daily Schedule: A fixed framework for completing daily activities, from waking and getting dressed, to toileting, taking medicine, brushing teeth, eating, exercising, and going to bed, can provide a solid foundation on which older adults with memory loss can process successfully. More structure and less surprises helps Alzheimer’s and dementia patients commit more actions to muscle (procedural) memory and feel secure and stable.
Listening to Music: Music has proven to power memory stimulation in miraculous ways. Nostalgic tunes that your loved one used to listen to can evoke emotion which carries memories with it, and singing while listening engages several areas of the brain, stimulating electrical signals that power stronger cognitive function. A 2011 study found that listening to sung music facilitated recognition and heightened attention in Alzheimer’s patients too.
Exercise: Regular physical activity is a beneficial anxiety-reliever for both patient and caregiver. In addition to combatting heart disease, lowering blood pressure, and relieving joint and muscle pain, daily exercise has been shown to boost endorphin production and reduce cortisol levels (the stress hormone). Low-impact exercises including yoga, swimming, playing tennis, golf gloves, hiking, and dancing are all easier, effective activities which patient and caregiver may be able to take part in together.
Light Exposure: For caregivers experiencing nightly battles with their loved one who suddenly becomes agitated, confused, and anxious when the sun sets, light exposure can make a difference. What is sundowner’s syndrome? Typically more prominent in older adults with underlying dementia, sundowners syndrome is the late-day onset of symptoms including outbursts, hallucinations, and severe confusion believed to be the result of an altered sleep/wake cycle due to impaired brain function. Anxiety-ridden for both patient and caregiver, it is believed the sundowning might be alleviated in part with fixed light exposure that helps the body slip back into a healthy circadian rhythm. Waking up to sunlight, going for walks outside during a sunny day, and then limiting light and closing blinds and curtains when it is time for winding down to sleep can be physical cues your loved one needs to understand the process of events and avoid confusion.
Aromatherapy: Recent studies have illustrated newfound effects essential oils can have on the olfactory senses and memory. Diffusing essential lavender, lemon, orange or rosemary oils has shown improved cognitive function, personal orientation, and stronger memory capabilities in Alzheimer’s patients. Essential oils, including lavender, bergamot, and frankincense, can also serve as stress-relievers for caregivers.
Even when caregivers know they are trying their best and making a huge difference in the life of their loved one, anxiety can creep in at a moment’s notice – when unknown medical complications arise, when a treatment doesn’t work as planned, or when rapid decline in your loved one amplifies the burden of even the simplest daily tasks. Addressing the anxiety your loved one experiences can also alleviate some of the stress and fatigue you may feel – creativity and a natural approach can go a long way.