Most caregivers will experience feelings of loneliness to some degree in their Alzheimer’s caregiving journey. The isolation during this COVID-19 pandemic especially exacerbates these feelings, causing anxiety and stress, depression and sleep deprivation.
The lack of social interaction and mental stimulation can be an undeniable trigger for loneliness, caused by the withdrawal from previous habits and lifestyles enjoyed by you and your loved one.
However, these can be adjusted as the disease progresses. Although your loved one is cognitively impaired, there are still ways to keep socially and mentally engaged. Small family gatherings, outdoor activities and exercise, hobbies, music, visits to museums and other public spaces are all ways to alleviate the effects of loneliness. In these times of pandemic, adjustments have to be made, but they are not impossible. Technology can play a big part in assisting with social and mentally stimulating activities.
For you, the caregiver, however, loneliness can evoke dark and difficult periods, and if the feelings are not addressed, you can succumb to mental and/or physical illnesses.
According to Dr. Douglas Nemecek, Cigna Health’s chief medical officer for behavioral health, “Loneliness has the same impact on mortality as smoking 15 cigarettes a day, making it even more dangerous than obesity.”
Find a way to express what you are feeling by joining a local support group for Alzheimer’s caregivers. Lean on some of your deeper outside relationships. Stay connected with them, being open and honest about your feelings, and allow them to be your support system and lifeline. Though caregiving is 24/7 and your time is limited, keeping a journal and writing your feelings down are good exercises for maintaining a balanced emotional state.
To curb loneliness, maintain your sense of self. Be selfish and build some time for yourself. Involvement in your own interests helps you feel connected to your sense of self and can give you peace of mind. Renewed interests in hobbies, getting adequate physical exercise, having dinner with a close friend, expressing yourself through art and music, and/or finding time to meditate and get spiritually centered are all activities that can be a source of rejuvenation for you. Allow yourself the time and hire a caregiver for your loved one or enlist the help of a family member or friend so you can have the respite you need.
Be grateful for those around you and the acknowledgement or praise of caregiving they bestow on you. Accepting the positive remarks and good wishes from others, even if their understanding of your challenges is limited; however, these can be a source of hope and encouragement for you in the caregiving journey. Moreover, jotting these acknowledgments down and posting them in various areas of your home can serve as “pick-me-ups” during those times when loneliness hovers over you.
If you are consistently overwhelmed with feelings of loneliness, or if these feelings are causing other emotional or medical concerns, you should consult your health care provider.