Caring for Others

Caring for a Loved One with Alzheimer's

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As a caregiver for someone with Alzheimer’s disease, getting through the days — while also making sure to take care of yourself — can seem like an impossible task. Like the majority of other family caregivers, you are probably juggling care for your loved one with a full-time job, family responsibilities and other commitments. All this can take its toll on you – emotionally, mentally and physically.

Here are some tips and guidelines on how to make life less stressful for you and your loved one with Alzheimer’s.

  • Ask for help. Fight the urge to take care of everything yourself. The chronic stress of dementia caregiving can impact immune health for three years after the caregiving ends. Managing your stress is key for your long-term well being; plus, the less stressed you are the more patient you will be when caring for your loved one.

    Make a list of your support needs, and ask your family and friends for help. Not everyone will be able to help, but you may be surprised how something that seems like a small task to a friend, like picking some things up at the store for you, can decrease your stress.

    Also consider reaching out beyond your family and friends for support. The Alzheimer’s Disease Education and Referral (ADEAR) Center can help caregivers find support groups and referrals. They’re also a great source of educational information.
     
  • Let out-of-town visitors know what to expect. As a caregiver, you see your loved one’s ups and downs. You are familiar with how their Alzheimer’s disease is progressing. But other family members and loved ones might be surprised or shocked if it has been a while since they’ve seen their loved one and his or her condition has worsened.

    Prepare any visitors ahead of time by filling them in on any updates. Let them know what to expect in terms of behavior. Talk to them about what helps your loved one and what could make their dementia worse. The more prepared everyone is, the more smoothly the visits will go.
     
  • Adjust your own expectations for traditions and celebrations. Traditions for things like holidays and birthdays often change as a loved one’s need change. Adjusting our own expectations can help ease the pain of change:
    Travel with Alzheimer’s patients: Travel may no longer be possible. As the stages of Alzheimer’s disease progress, forgetfulness can shift into confusion. Later stages often bring behavioral changes and communication problems. Missing the opportunity to connect with family and friends can be hard for both the caregiver and patient. When possible, ask friends and family to come to you. Technology can help bridge the distance. Consider using phone and video calls to replace travel. Looking at old photos, watching family videos and sharing memories can also be a meaningful experience for both patient and caregiver.
    Giving gifts when a loved one has Alzheimer’s: As Alzheimer’s disease worsens, the safety and suitability of gifts for the patient should be considered. Avoid problems by providing family with appropriate gift suggestions. For some gift suggestions based on the progress of the disease, check out the Alzheimer’s Association’s website. Keep in mind that you may find it hard to take a break for your own holiday shopping. Try to plan ahead, take advantage of online ordering and recruit family members to shop for you if you need to.
     
  • Involve your loved one when making plans. Your loved one’s ability to get around may change, but that doesn’t mean their life can’t be enjoyable. As you make plans, consider your loved one’s abilities and limitations. Be honest about your own limitations, as well. Get comfortable saying “no” if the plan will place a burden on either of you.

    If possible, involve your loved one with Alzheimer’s disease in decision-making and activities. This can help to ensure you both enjoy activities.
     
  • Take time for self-care. Don’t forget to set aside time to take a break from your caregiving responsibilities. Caregiver burnout can interfere with your wellness and the care of your loved one. Symptoms include anxiety, depression, sleep problems and irritability. Taking time to care for yourself is a key way to avoid this serious condition.

    You might not be able to take a week off for a vacation, but even short amounts of time away can help. Going for a walk and talking with a friend, listening to music and going to a movie are all small and simple things to do to avoid burnout.
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