– Question –
I’ve been taking care of my mom for the past couple of years. She’s 87 and has Alzheimer’s and a few other health problems.
Lately I feel like something is wrong with my own brain! I keep forgetting things, I have a short attention span, and sometimes I just can’t think.
Why isn’t my brain working? Am I getting Alzheimer’s or something?
– Answer –
It’s understandably disturbing when your brain is on the fritz, but it’s probably not a sign that you’re getting Alzheimer’s. What’s more likely is that your brain is reacting to being constantly stressed for a long period of time.
This is your body’s way of telling you that something needs to change.
Even if you’ve gotten so used to the constant stress of caregiving and don’t notice it, very real things are happening in your brain.
1. Stress triggers chemical changes that make you forgetful and irritable
Changes in brain enzymes cause fewer connections to be made in the hippocampus. This makes you cranky and causes impaired memory or understanding. Sound familiar?
2. Stress shrinks your brain
Chronic stress can cause the brain to lose volume (shrink) in a certain area. That shrinkage is associated with emotional and cognitive impairment. So stress is literally causing you to lose brain power.
3. Stressful events kill brain cells
Stressful events could actually destroy newly formed cells in the part of the brain associated with learning, memory, and emotion. This area is also especially vulnerable to ongoing emotional distress, which often goes hand-in-hand with caregiving.
4. The fight-or-flight response disrupts memory
When you’re stressed, your body goes into an emergency state, reacting to a perceived threat. The brain activity that happens in flight-or-fight mode restricts your ability to take in new information. It also magnifies your emotional reactions. Neither of these helps you function!
How you can reduce stress and get your brain back
After hearing all that, it makes more sense why your brain isn’t working at top speed. It doesn’t mean you have a brain disease, it just means you’ve been under a lot of stress and need to give yourself a break to let your brain recover.
De-stressing is easier said than done, but there really is a lot that you can do. Give one of these stress reducing techniques a try:
- 40 Ways to Reduce Caregiver Stress Through Gratitude
- Manage Caregiver Stress with a Useful Smartphone App
- 8 Benefits of Caregiver Support Groups
You can also get more help or take a respite break:
- How to Take a Short Break from Caregiving with Respite Care
- Get Caregiving Help From a Team
- How to Be OK with Getting Caregiving Help