As summer begins it is important to recognize that June is Alzheimer’s Awareness Month. More than five million Americans are living with the disease and almost two-thirds of them are women. One in three seniors dies from Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia.
What Is Alzheimer's Disease?
Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is a progressive and irreversible brain disorder. The actual cause of AD is unknown. AD slowly damages a person’s memory, judgment, reasoning skills, personality, autonomy, and bodily functions.
The disease specifically affects several components of the brain which include:
- A gradual loss of brain cells (neurons)
- Damage to neurons so they no longer function properly
- The loss of neural connections (synapses) where messages are passed from neuron to neuron
Family Caregiving for Alzheimer's
Caring for a family member with AD can have high physical, emotional, and financial costs. The demands of day-to-day care, changes in family roles, and decisions about placement in a care facility can be difficult.
Becoming well-informed about the disease is one important strategy. Programs that teach families about the various stages of AD and about ways to deal with difficult behaviors and other caregiving challenges can help.
Peggy Hardy, RN, Director of Nursing for Freudenthal Home Health, notes that when dealing with Alzheimers and dementia patients, where you stand can make a huge difference.
“Never stand behind them or to their side when trying to speak with or even feed an Alzheimer’s patient. Always make sure you stand in front of them where they can clearly see you, speak slowly and keep things simple. Most of all it’s important to stay calm and be patient.”
Good coping skills, a strong support network, and in-home care providers are other ways to help family caregivers handle the stress of caring for a loved one with AD. For example, staying physically active provides physical and emotional benefits.
While in-home care and even respite services can help ease the stress of the family caregiver, some caregivers have found that joining a support group can also be critical lifeline. These support groups allow caregivers express concerns, share experiences, get tips, and receive emotional comfort.
How Family Caregivers Can Ask For Help
Family caregivers always welcome a helping hand, and often some of that assistance could be provided by a young adult child who lives nearby. But some millennials may be too involved with their careers and relationships to notice how much a parent is struggling to care for a seriously ill grandparent, sibling or other family member.
How to ask? Here are some useful strategies.
Explain your predicament. Author and clinical psychologist Harriet Lerner suggests opening the conversation with something like, “I am feeling so tired and depleted from taking care of mom that I’m worried if something doesn’t change, I will be crawling in that bed with her.”
Make specific requests. Be clear about what you need. Try communicating, “Can you spell me for two hours on a weekend or stop at the grocery store on your way home from work?”
Talk to them about how they would like to contribute and how they could be most helpful. Ask for their suggestions and give options. Perhaps a financial whiz can handle the medical bills. Or maybe he or she would be happy to do the grocery shopping online or take on washing the clothes.
Plan for an ongoing conversation. It might take several heart-to-hearts to come up with a game plan. And you can revisit the conversation if the help lessens or the caregiving needs become greater.
Remember that this is not easy. It can be painful for a young person (or anyone) to see a loved one with serious health problems. Let them know you understand how they feel and that it hurts you, too.
See if in-home care is a possibility. In-home care may be covered under your private insurance or even veterans benefits, and can help lessen the stress on you and your family members. Researching your options is free and most in-home caregivers, like Freudenthal Home Health, will help you understand all your options.
Resources for Alzheimer’s Care
Caregiver Stress Check: http://www.alz.org/care/alzheimers-dementia-stress-check.asp
AARP Caregiver Resources: http://www.aarp.org/home-family/caregiving/care-guides/dementia-caregiving/
alzheimers.gov Resource Page: https://alzheimers.acl.gov/caregiver_resources.html
National Institute on Aging: https://www.nia.nih.gov/alzheimers/topics/caregiving/
Local Support Groups
Living Community of St. Joseph
1202 Heartland Road
St. Joseph MO 64506
2nd Tuesday at 5:00pm
Mary Schrom Breese
St. Joseph Memory Cafe at Solomon's Porch Coffee Shop
3902 NE Riverside Road
St. Joseph MO 64506
3rd Thursday at 10:00am