A diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease affects not only the individual but also the caregiver. Caring for someone with Alzheimer’s disease is challenging. The task of caregiving often falls primarily on the shoulders of one person. The stress of this 24-hour care in addition to the feelings of despair and sadness can take a toll on the caregiver’s own health. The caregiver needs to recognize:
- He or she cannot do it alone. There are resources available through the Area Agency on Aging and the Alzheimer’s Association – just to name a few.
- If someone offers help, take it. Accepting help is not a sign of weakness. Caregivers need to be realistic. If family members, friends, churchgoers, and others offer help, caregivers should not feel guilty. It is important for the caregiver to get away – even if it is just for a few short hours. Or, if the caregiver is not comfortable leaving the house, he or she could just take a nap.
- Caregivers should find a support group. Learning that others have had similar experiences can be an enormous relief. There is comfort in knowing that a caregiver is not alone. A lot of good ideas and tips for dealing with the disease process come out of those support group meetings. A local support group can be found by contacting the national Alzheimer’s Association.
- Caregivers should take some respite time. Many nursing homes and assisted living facilities are equipped to take a person who has Alzheimer’s on a respite basis. This allows the caregiver to go away and become “recharged.” Caregivers experiencing stress, anger, and frustration do not always provide the best care.
- Maintaining the caregiver’s own health is just as important as caring for their loved one who is living with Alzheimer’s. A caregiver should not ignore his or her own health. If the caregiver becomes unable to provide care, their family member who has Alzheimer’s may need to be institutionalized sooner that he or she would have been, had the caregiver been able to provide care. Because of the overwhelming task of caring for someone with Alzheimer’s disease, caregivers often suffer from depression. Caregivers should take advantage of resources available (such as counseling) and talk to their own medical providers.
- The Alzheimer’s Association can provide training to novice caregivers. Education about the disease and how to care for someone at each stage can allow the person living with Alzheimer’s to remain at home for an extended period.
- Caregivers should begin to plan early for the present and future needs of any person diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or dementia. It is most important to meet with an Elder Law attorney experienced in planning for those with Alzheimer’s (and other related dementias). They should also visit assisted living facilities and nursing homes to obtain a good idea of where their loved ones could be placed in the event care outside the home is needed.
Caregivers who are knowledgeable and supportive, and who care for themselves, can ultimately provide the best care to their loved one.