Cool Caregiver: Serenity now, Alzheimer’s disease later

Cool caregiver

The mental and physical challenge of caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s disease would break even a trained professional, let alone an unpaid caregiver. The tension can build up to the level of a Mexican stand-off. But like Sam Jackson said in Pulp Fiction, we’re gonna be a bunch of Fonzies. And what’s Fonzie like? Come on, what’s Fonzie like? He’s cool? Correct-amundo! And that's what we're gonna be, we're gonna be cool. However, we cannot be like a cucumber – as in ‘cool as a’ – if we’re all stressed out. Problem is, we can’t always tell when we’re stressed; perhaps we even think that’s the normal state of being a caregiver. So the very first step is to be able to recognize the signs of caregiver stress.

Warning signs of caregiver stress

  • Denial

A belief that the patient’s disease is not serious or even real.

  • Anxiety

Worrying too much about the future.

  • Depression

Hopelessness or powerlessness.

  • Irritability

Blowing a gasket over trifles.

  • Anger

Becoming unwarrantedly angry.

  • Poor concentration

Difficulty focusing.

  • Isolation

Withdrawing from other people and from once joyful activities.

  • Sleep problems

Insomnia or hypersomnia.

  • Fatigue

Chronic tiredness.

  • Illness

Health issues.


The serenity to accept the things I cannot change

The road toward serenity starts with a reality check. You have to accept the fact that Alzheimer’s disease is very real and that your loved one has it. This is a progressively degenerative disease, which means that even though the patient has good days and bad, he or she will get worse before they get better. Actually, there is no getting better at all; the ineluctable outcome of the condition is death. Once you have made your peace with this fact, you can prepare to make the rest of your relative’s life – which could be many years or only a few – as comfortable and painless as possible. As far as your own wellbeing goes, making an effort to live in the present and go one day at a time, you may be able to avoid worrying about the future and thus falling into one of the pitfalls of caregiver’s stress, anxiety.

The courage to change the things I can

More often than not, the only thing you can actually change is your outlook on things. But going from a negative perspective to a positive one is like going from one polar opposite to the other; in other words, like going from black to white or from the dark to the light. What you need to do is identify negative thoughts and substitute them for positive ones, kind of like your Daily Affirmations with Stuart Smalley. Or like at the end of Schindler’s List where Liam Neeson kept saying he could have done much more, but having considered all things, he did save thousands of Jewish people, including Ben Kingsley who went on to make Sexy Beast and House of Sand and Fog, thus more than making up for Bloodrayne and Prince of Persia.

Additionally, there many things that you can do differently, as well as new things that you didn’t do before but which can effectively help you cope, including:

  • Validation.
  • Creating a safe environment.
  • Making legal and financial decisions.
  • Meditating or reflecting for 10-20 minutes every day.
  • Exercising.
  • Seeing a doctor regularly.
  • Doing enjoyable activities.
  • Making a list of things to do.
  • Doing one thing at a time.
  • Establishing realistic goals.
  • Saying ‘no’ more often.
  • Connect with friends and relatives – as well as other caregivers in support groups – either personally or online.               
  • Write a diary.
  • Keep your sense of humor.
  • Pat yourself on the back.

The wisdom to know the difference

The wisdom of a caregiver comes from personal experience, but it also comes from learning as much as possible about Alzheimer’s disease. Some resources from which to obtain knowledge and help include the following:


"Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,

The courage to change the things I can, 

And the wisdom to know the difference."

- Serenity Prayer, Reinhold Niebuhr -


Related Read:

- When and where to find caregiving help for Alzheimer's disease

- Managing Stress: Care for the Caregiver