Every 68 seconds, someone in the United States develops Alzheimer’s disease. Approximately 5.4 million Americans currently have the disease, and nearly 15 million others are providing care. Often the equivalent of a full-time job, 80 percent of at-home care for people with Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia is provided by unpaid family caregivers.
With the rise in the older population, many Americans may find themselves in the role of caregiver for a friend or family member with Alzheimer’s disease. Whether your loved one was recently diagnosed or you’ve been providing care for years, here are three easy-to-remember tips that will help guide you through your caregiving journey.
Surround yourself with support.
A survey from Caregiver Action Network (CAN) of nearly 600 Alzheimer’s family caregivers revealed that the majority (62 percent) are not getting the stress relief they need from their family and friends. CAN urges family caregivers to remember that they are not alone and to find ways to connect with other like-minded caregivers through support groups or professionals who can help, such as a local Alzheimer’s Association chapter, an Area Agency on Aging, or your faith-based community.
Not sure where to start? While the Internet is full of helpful tips and advice from professionals and other caregivers, to get started you may want to visit CAN’s online resource center to view a new video series featuring Alzheimer’s caregivers from different cities across the country. These family caregivers in the videos share common struggles and stresses, and provide insights and practical advice, from life after discovering Alzheimer’s to effective communication tactics with your loved one.
Turn to your loved one’s health care team.
Make the most out of every doctor’s appointment you attend with your loved one. Before you get there, write down your questions and any thoughts you want to share. Daily records of your loved one’s ability to function, both mentally and physically, can be helpful at these meetings.
“It is important that caregivers know there are FDA-approved medications for the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease that can make a difference,” says Dr. Gustavo Alva a neuropsychiatrist and medical director of ATP Clinical Research in Costa Mesa, Calif. “There is no cure yet for Alzheimer’s disease, and the medications available now will not change the course of the disease, but they may help to slow the progression of Alzheimer’s symptoms for a period of time.”
Remember, your loved one’s health care team can be an important resource for you in other areas as well. They can provide tailored recommendations for services such as social workers, home care agencies, and support groups in the area, depending on each patient and caregiver’s specific needs.
Take care of yourself.
“As an Alzheimer’s family caregiver, it is important to always find time for yourself,” says John Schall, CEO of CAN. “Caregiving is mentally, emotionally and physically draining. In the long run, taking time out will help preserve your stamina for being an effective caregiver for your loved one.”
Maybe you love biking, gardening, or sneaking off to a matinee in the middle of the week. Whatever helps you relax and recharge, do it without feeling guilty. Scheduling these brief periods of respite is not a luxury – it is a must in order for you to stay healthy and strong.
For more information and resources, visit www.caregiveractionnetwork.org. The survey was conducted by GfK Roper Public Affairs & Corporate Communications, on behalf of the Caregiver Action Network (formerly National Family Caregivers Association) and Forest Laboratories, Inc.