caring for someone with alzheimer's

The stress that comes with being a caregiver for a loved one with Alzheimer’s can be extremely demanding and quite often overwhelming. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, there are nearly 15 million Alzheimer’s (AD) and dementia caregivers providing 17 billion hours of unpaid care valued at $202 billion. More than 60 percent of family caregivers report high levels of stress because of the prolonged duration of caregiving and 33 percent report symptoms of depression. Although memory loss is the most common symptom of AD, others include confusion, lack of orientation and changes in personality and behavior. Individuals with AD require escalating levels of care, management and provisions for their safety. Because the disease slowly gets worse, caregivers often spend a very long time in the caregiving role.

A recent survey found that 25% of those caring for someone with Alzheimer’s provide on average 40 hours of care weekly with about 75% performing physically demanding personal care including bathing, feeding and bathroom assistance. Understandably, 40% of these caregivers reported high levels of emotional stress, particularly those who are working full or part-time; last year two-thirds of working caregivers missed work because of caregiving responsibilities and 8% turned down promotions.

To support these caregivers, the Alzheimer’s Research Foundation offers caregivers assistance through education, services, research and advocacy programs; such programs are at local, state and national levels. There is also funding available to assist family caregivers under the National Family Caregiver Support Program (NFCSP). The Alzheimer’s Foundation of America offers the following tips for success as you give the best care possible for a loved one with Alzheimer’s.

  • Educate yourself about the disease. Read books, attend workshops and consult with healthcare professionals.
  • Learn caregiving techniques. Key areas are communication skills, safety concerns, managing behavioral challenges and activities of daily living. Understand the experience of your loved one. Adjust your expectations. Be patient and kind.
  • Avoid caregiver burnout. Make time for yourself. Join caregiver support groups. Pursue interests beyond your caregiving role, such as exercise, hobbies, journaling and art.
  • Maintain your own physical and mental health. Exercise, respite and other activities can reduce stress. Seek medical help if there are signs of depression.
  • Discuss the situation with family and friends. Support systems are critical, especially when those you are caring for have a chronic condition which could potentially be long term.
  • Participate in cognitively stimulating activities with your loved one. Listening to music, doing word puzzles and partaking in memory games can easily be done at home.
  • Foster communication with physicians. Be involved in your loved one’s medical care. Ask questions about the progression of the disease, express concerns and discuss treatment options.
  • Take care of financial, legal and long-term care planning issues. Try to involve your loved one in decision-making, if they are still capable of providing input, and consider their wishes related to future care and end-of-life issues.
  • Smile. Kindness, humor and creativity are essential parts of caregiving. Hugs, hand massages and other gentle physical contact will help your loved one feel connected and loved.
  • Think positively. Focus on your loved one’s remaining strengths and enjoy your relationship while you are still able to.