Proactive Coping Strategies for Caregivers
Alzheimer’s caregivers frequently report experiencing high levels of stress. It can be overwhelming to take care of a loved one with Alzheimer’s or other dementia, but too much stress can be harmful to everyone involved. For years, scientists have explored differences in coping styles to gain an insight into how caregivers persist through challenging experiences. As a result, two main coping strategies have been highlighted: emotion-focused or reactive coping, and problem-focused or proactive coping.
Emotion-focused coping is adjusting one’s emotional response to a difficult situation. This behavior involves seeking social support, achieving positive appraisal, confrontation, and distancing. On the other hand, problem-focused coping is managing the problem within the stressful environment. It includes planning, creating and implementing an action plan, as well as developing different solutions to each situation.
Multiple studies have concluded that Alzheimer’s and dementia caregivers who adopted proactive coping strategies were more resilient. They reported making action plans and following them, which provided a sense of control and order. On the contrary, those who adopted the emotional coping skills reported increase in stress, social isolation, drinking and smoking.
According to York University’s Department of Psychology, traditional forms of coping tend to be reactive and address risk management. In other words, caregivers are dealing with stressful events that have already occurred and they are trying to compensate for past harm or loss. Proactive coping, on the other hand, is more future and goal-oriented. In proactive coping, people perceive difficult situations as challenges. These individuals usually possess highly developed social skills which allows them to mobilizes helpful resources at their disposal.
Proactive coping adopters also focus on the good things that come from providing care for someone with Alzheimer’s disease. There will always be changes in the relationship but it can still be rich and fulfilling through time spent together, and learning new things about each other.
Here are some proactive coping tips:
- Manage your level of stress. Consider how stress affects your body (stomach aches, high blood pressure) — and your emotions (overeating, irritability). Find ways to relax. Learn more.
- Be realistic. The care you give does make a difference, but many behaviors can’t be controlled. Grieve the losses, focus on positive times as they arise, and enjoy good memories.
- Give yourself credit, not guilt. It’s normal to lose patience or feel like your care may fall short sometimes. You’re doing the best you can. For support and encouragement, join ALZConnected, our online caregiver community.
- Take a break. It’s normal to need a break from caregiving duties. No one can do it all by themselves. Look into respite care to allow time to take care of yourself.
- Accept changes. Eventually your loved one will need more intensive kinds of care. Research care options now so you are ready for the changes as they occur.
- Know that you aren’t alone. Being part of a community of people going through similar experiences can provide you with support, hope and information. Contact your local Alzheimer’s Association chapter to find an early-stage care partner support group near you.
- Research ahead of time. Since paying for long-term care can be a big concern and source of stress, research all your options, if plans are not already in place. To find local services, resources and programs, use our free online Community Resource Finder.
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