About one-third of adults age 65 and older are family caregivers, and many of these individuals are caring for relatives who have Alzheimer’s disease or another form of dementia. Unfortunately, the stress of taking care of an AD patient does take a toll, particularly as the disease progresses to later stages, when behavioral symptoms can be problematic. In this month’s issue, we’re looking at practical strategies for managing these behavioral symptoms—but it’s also vital to think about your own wellbeing.
Many caregivers are inclined to place their loved one’s needs before their own, and as they juggle the patient’s medications, doctor appointments, comfort, and safety, they frequently neglect their own physical and emotional health. For example, you may feel that you can’t take time away from your loved one in order to attend support group meetings—but I recommend you do. Other caregivers can offer tips on dealing with finances and doctors, as well as the challenging behaviors our cover article is focusing on. Support groups also give you an opportunity to create bonds with others who are going through the same experience. This is particularly important if you only interact with the person you care for all day, since this degree of isolation can result in you becoming depressed. The Alzheimer’s Association (www.alz.org) can put you in touch with local support groups, and has an online community. You also may find its caregiver information seminars useful for imparting a sense of control in knowing what to anticipate in the course of AD.
Getting a break from caregiving should involve more than the occasional support group meeting. Try to get away for a few hours a few times a week if you can—you should be able to find a low-cost (or free) local adult day program that will take care of your loved one while you get some time off. “Social model” adult day programs, usually attached to senior centers, typically offer arts-and-crafts and game-based activities that provide mental stimulation for seniors, along with physical activities such as dancing. However, if your loved one needs more care than a social model program can provide, or would benefit from occupational and/or physical therapy, a “medical model” program may be better. Consult a social worker (your local Department of Aging or senior center will have contact details for local social workers), who can let you know if your loved one is eligible for Medicaid funding for medical model daycare programs, and/or for homecare. You can find out what daycare programs are available in your area via the Alzheimer’s Association website.
It is likely that you see it as an important part of your life to care for your loved one now he or she can’t do so. But you need to ensure that your life isn’t consumed by the person for whom you are caring. Try to make time in your day to do the things that you enjoy. Listen to a favorite piece of music, read affirmations or books that provide a spiritual boost, or take a 10-minute walk—anything that will help keep you in a positive frame of mind.
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