In 2017, over 5 million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s at various stages. This leads to more than 15 million Americans acting as unpaid caregivers for Alzheimer’s patients. Though each case is different to some degree, there are common facts to keep in mind.
1- Take Care of Yourself
When it comes time to provide care to others, many caregivers give up on taking care of themselves. Dealing with a disease like Alzheimer’s, and seeing your loved one deal with it takes a tremendous toll on the psyche. It is imperative that caretakers do everything they can to take time for themselves to meditate, read or participate in other relaxing activities. It is also important to eat right and exercise regularly. These things allow the caregiver to handle the ups and downs, as well as physical challenges that loom ahead.
2- Ask for Help
There is a myriad of organizations throughout the country that focus on Alzheimer’s patients and caregivers. Doctors, clergy and others also provide support. Understanding the loved one’s symptoms and the best ways to handle them is vital to keeping the loved one comfortable. A member of clergy can listen and provide comfort during time of stress. Asking questions, requesting information, and feeling supported are important to the keep take care of your loved one and yourself.
3- Alzheimer Stages
There are seven identified stages of Alzheimer’s. They range from no outward impairment to very severe decline where patients are no longer able to respond to the environment and are immobile. Because each case of Alzheimer’s is different and the length of time at each stage varies, experts have developed guidelines for three overarching stages that provide guidelines for the caregiver to understand the symptoms and tools for reacting to them.
The early stage of Alzheimer’s can find the patient at a loss for words, forgetful of appointments and unable to recall familiar places or people. Setting up reminders or cues is a way that the caregiver can help the loved one remain as independent as possible.
The middle stage may find the patient getting more frustrated and angry. They may have trouble dressing themselves, start jumbling words or acting out in various ways. Though a challenge, it is important to find new ways to bond with your loved one.
The late stage will bring on changes that lead to the need for full-time care for your loved one. There will be problems with eating, walking and other daily activities. The loved one may benefit from stimulation of the senses such as playing soothing music, brushing her hair or simply enjoying a nice day outside.
4- Dealing with the Symptoms
It is important for caregivers to understand the difference between the loved one and the disease. Many times, things will be said and done that are out of character for the loved one. This can be particularly different for a caregiver that has always been close to the loved one. Regardless of how the disease presents itself, it is vital for the caregiver to understand the difference and not take the action or words personally.
5- Take a Break
As indicated, being a caregiver for an Alzheimer’s patient can be extremely challenging, both physically and mentally. Making arrangements for an afternoon away or a week’s vacation can seem insurmountable. It is important that the caregiver remember that they are not alone and that others are there to help. Relatives, church members and local non-profits can be approached for help.
Being a caregiver for an Alzheimer’s patient can seem overwhelming. Being aware of the stages and what to expect, taking care of yourself and asking for help all will keep you healthy for yourself, your loved one, and other family members.