By Valerie Yurk

Caregiving for a loved one is difficult – but adding dementia to the mix is “caregiving on steroids.”

Amy Goyer, family and caregiving expert for AARP, devoted years of her life to caring for her parents, both of whom experienced the effects of Alzheimer’s disease as they aged. She explained that dementia caregiving is more complicated because every case is unique.

“I always tell caregivers that their loved one may seem different, but they’re still there,” she said. “My parents knew they were loved, and that’s all I could ask for.”

Dementia caregivers carry huge emotional, physical and financial burdens. Aside from working longer hours for more years, they also tend to make more adjustments to their work and personal lives to extend care.

It also takes a lot of money: 41% of dementia caregivers have a household income of $50,000 or less and spend about $14,000 out-of-pocket for care, Goyer explained. She spent years caring for her parents, but not everyone has the will or the means to do so.

Sixteen million caregivers provide unpaid care for a family member living with dementia. On average, unpaid caregivers provide 18.5 billion hours of care and are valued at more than $234 billion, according to an AARP report.

Two-thirds of unpaid family caregivers are women, and about a quarter of those women care for both an aging parent and children under 18.

The issue Goyer found with hiring caregivers is that many lack an understanding of how unique each case is. She spent a lot of her time trying out small things that eased her parents’ stress and made them healthier.

“I was open to try anything. I tried essential oils, music, changing their diets and more,” she said.

The key thing that dementia caregivers can do to care for their loved ones: Care for themselves.

Her tips for dementia caregivers:

  • Get you and your loved one out of the house: engage in hobbies;
  • Focus on your loved ones’ strengths, like routines and activities;
  • Keep a healthy diet and stay active;
  • Manage a regular sleep schedule;
  • Be open to trying “alternatives.”