Dunwoody at Home: Alzheimer’s Help for Family Caregivers

A woman guiding an elderly Alzheimer's patient on an outdoor walk.
Image via iStock.

The full article by Lawrence Robinson, Melissa S. Wayne, M.A., and Jeanne Segal, Ph.D. appears in  HelpGuide and can be found at the Dunwoody at Home website.

Taking care of someone with Alzheimer’s or another type of dementia can be overwhelming but you are not alone.

There are more than 16 million people in the United States caring for someone with dementia.

There’s currently no cure for Alzheimer’s or dementia so it is often the caregiver’s support that makes the biggest difference in your loved one’s life.

But it’s easy for the caregiving to be all-consuming. As your loved one’s cognitive, physical and functional abilities gradually diminish, it’s easy to feel disheartened and neglect your own health and well-being.

Many caregivers at some point will experience anxiety, depression, loneliness, exhaustion, and burnout.  it is critical that caregivers seek out help and support along the way.

There are strategies that can make your caregiving journey as rewarding as it is challenging.

A person with dementia will behave in different, sometimes disturbing ways. This can be emotionally confusing, frustrating and sad for the caregiver and their patients.

As the disease progresses, your loved ones’ needs increase but their ability to show appreciation for your hard work diminishes.

Even so, there can be rich, life-affirming rewards.

Caregiving is a pure expression of love. Caring for a person with Alzheimer’s or dementia connects you on a deeper level. If you were already close, it can bring you closer. If you weren’t close before, it can help you resolve differences, find forgiveness, and build new, warmer memories with your family member.

Caregiving changes your perspective on life and can help you appreciate your own life more.

Many find their priorities changing and the trivial day-to-day worries fade.

Caring for someone with Alzheimer’s or dementia can make you feel needed and valued and add structure and meaning to your life, knowing you’re making a difference.

It can add a sense of accomplishment, teach you new skills and boost your confidence.

Getting help

Attending support groups can also broaden your social network and help you form new, rewarding relationships.

There are plenty of community and online resources to help you provide effective care on this journey.

Start by finding the nearest Alzheimer’s Association, These organizations offer practical support, helplines, advice, and training for caregivers and their families. They can also put you in touch with local support groups.

There are also books, workshops, and online training resources that can teach caregiving skills.

What you can do

Learn all you can about your loved one’s dementia. While everyone’s experiences of Alzheimer’s or dementia are different, the more you learn about the condition and how it’s likely to progress, the better you’ll be able to prepare for future challenges.

Prepare for the road ahead. With your support, your loved one may be able to maintain their independence and live alone in the early stages of dementia.

However, their cognitive and physical regression means they will ultimately require around-the-clock help. Putting plans for their future housing and care in place now can help reduce stress in the future, enable your loved one to be involved in the decision-making process, and ensure their legal, financial, and healthcare wishes are respected.

Take steps to slow the progression of symptoms. While treatments are available for some symptoms, lifestyle changes can also be effective.

Exercising, eating and sleeping well, managing stress, and staying mentally and socially active are among the steps that can improve brain health and slow the process of deterioration.

Making healthy lifestyle changes alongside your loved one can also help protect your own health and counter the stress of caregiving.

Make sure to ask for help.  It’s important to reach out to other family members, friends, or volunteer organizations to help with the daily burden of caregiving.

Schedule frequent breaks throughout the day to pursue your hobbies and interests and stay on top of your own health needs. Caregivers who take regular time away not only provide better care, they also find more satisfaction in their caretaking roles.

Sources of caregiver support

In-home help ranges from a few hours a week of caregiving assistance to live-in help, depending on your needs and what you can afford.

You can also hire help for basic tasks like housekeeping, shopping, or other errands to free you up to provide more focused care for your loved one.

Adult daycare offers activities and socialization opportunities for your loved one and the chance for you to continue working or attend to other needs. Look for adult day care programs that specialize in dementia care.

Find group activities designed specifically for those with Alzheimer’s or dementia. Senior centers, community centers, or adult daycare programs often host these types of activities.

Respite care gives you a block of time as a caregiver to rest, travel, or attend to other things.

 Enlist friends and family who live near you to run errands, bring a hot meal, or watch the patient so you can take a well-deserved break.

Volunteers or paid help can also provide in-home respite services. Or you can explore out-of-home respite programs such as adult day care centers and nursing homes.

it’s important to encourage social interaction. Making your loved one feel safe rather than stressed will make communication easier.

Be patient. If your loved one has difficulty recalling a word, for example, allow them time. Getting anxious or impatient will only inhibit their recall.

Caregiving in the late stages of Alzheimer’s or dementia

As Alzheimer’s or another dementia reaches the late stages, your loved one will likely require 24-hour care.

At this time, you will be managing feelings of grief and loss and making difficult end-of-life decisions.

It’s important to give yourself time to adjust, grieve your losses, and gain acceptance.

At this time, consider moving your loved one to a care facility such as a nursing home, where they can receive high levels of both custodial and medical care.

Another option is hospice and palliative care. While some facilities provide hospice care onsite, it’s more commonly provided in the patient’s own home. This allows your loved one to spend their final months in a familiar environment surrounded by family and friends, while you have the support of hospice staff to ensure your loved one enjoys the best quality of care until the end.

Don’t neglect your own needs

Continue to plan for your own care. Visit your doctor for regular checkups. Pay attention to signs of excessive stress.

Take time away from caregiving to maintain friendships, social contacts, and professional networks, and pursue the hobbies and interests that bring you joy.

Talk to someone. Talk to a trusted friend, family member, clergy member, or therapist, about what you’re going through.

Stay active. Regular exercise not only keeps you fit, it releases endorphins that can really boost your mood. Aim for at least 30 minutes of exercise on most days. If you can’t get away for that long at once, break the time up into 10-minute sessions throughout the day.

Practice relaxation techniques like deep breathing, meditation or yoga. 

Caregiving for a loved one with dementia can be one of the most stressful tasks you’ll undertake in life. To combat this stress and boost your mood and energy levels, you need to activate your body’s natural relaxation response. As well as exercising and connecting face-to-face with others, try relaxation techniques such as deep breathing, meditation, or yoga.

Read the entire article on Alzheimer’s and Dementia Care: Help for Family Caregivers.

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