Caring for the Caregiver-National Alzheimer's Awareness Month

As National Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness Month and National Family Caregivers Month come to a close, we thought we would spotlight a very important topic –caring for the caregiver.  With the rising costs of medical care, providing residential support for people with Alzheimer’s disease often falls to those closest to them, both friends and family. According to the March 2012 Alzheimer’s Association Fact Sheet:

  • In 2011, 15.2 million family and friends provided 17.4 billion hours of unpaid care to those with Alzheimer’s and other dementias – care valued at $210.5 billion.
  • More than 60 percent of Alzheimer’s and dementia caregivers rate the emotional stress of caregiving as high or very high; one-third report symptoms of depression.
  • Due to the physical and emotional toll of caregiving on their own health, Alzheimer’s and dementia caregivers had $8.7 billion in additional health care costs in 2011.

What can you do to support someone who is providing care for a loved one with Alzheimer’s or dementia?

  • Offer them respite.  Volunteer to be the care provider for a while or assist them in locating someone who can offer supports while they take a break.
  • Connect them with a support system.  Whether it’s by listening to their concerns or connecting them with a local support group, caregivers need to know they are not alone.
  • Support a healthy lifestyle.  Make sure the caregiver doesn’t sacrifice his/her health while caring for others.  Eating healthily, exercising, and rest are important to maintaining their ability to care.
  • Access community resources.  The Alzheimer’s Association and other organizations often have local sites that offer information, support groups, counseling, respite, etc. for those who are providing care.
  • Lighten the load.  While they are caring for the loved one, take on some of the other home or family tasks that they may be struggling to do.  Often assisting with basic daily chores can reduce stress for a caregiver.
  • Offer help then ask “How?”  Caregivers typically try to do it all so they don’t have to burden others.  By knowing that someone is willing to step in, they may be more likely to seek assistance.
  • Consider utilizing technology.  Pairing tools such as GPS watches or monitoring with wireless sensors can often provide safeguards during those “just in case” times, such as during the night.  Technology cannot replace the human touch, but it can offer caregivers an additional set of “eyes and ears.”

Most notably, remind the caregiver that caring for him/herself is just as important as caring for the loved one.  I often tell family caregivers to think of the statement that flight attendants use on an airplane:  “First, put the oxygen mask on yourself so that you can take care of those around you.”  Maintaining good health and getting enough rest isn’t selfish—it only ensures that the caregiver will be able to provide the loving support needed for those with Alzheimer’s and dementia.

Cameron Kempson, M.Ed.

Cameron is the Client Care and Education Specialist with SimplyHome.  She has worked with families in the fields of aging and disabilities for more than 20 years.

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