Words of wisdom for Alzheimer’s caregivers

More than five million people in the United States have Alzheimer’s disease, and that number is growing. As a result, more Americans are becoming caregivers to a mother, father, sibling or spouse. In fact, almost 15 million family members and friends provided unpaid care for someone with AD or another dementia in 2010. For many, this responsibility is unexpected and life changing.

The role of caregiving and its highs and lows are something TV personality and Alzheimer’s advocate Leeza Gibbons knows well. Leeza cared for her mother Jean during her decade-long battle with Alzheimer’s. “I promised my mom before she passed that I would share her story and what I learned from our journey to help ease some of the emotional, physical and spiritual challenges that so many caregivers experience,” says Leeza. “In fulfilling this promise, I’ve seen how beneficial it can be for caregivers to connect, share and learn from each other.”

In partnership with Novartis Pharmaceuticals Corporation, Leeza has launched the “Words of Wisdom” contest. The contest calls on Alzheimer’s caregivers to submit their advice about finding strength and support during their caregiving journey at AlzheimersDisease.com. A panel of judges including Leeza, an Alzheimer’s expert and a caregiver will review the entries. Ten winners who have the most positive, unique, useful and affordable advice will receive a $100 gift card and have their insights published on the Web site.

While caregiving can be rewarding, it may also come at the expense of a caregiver’s career, finances, relationships and health. Research shows AD caregivers are more likely to rate the stress of caregiving as high compared to caregivers of people with other diseases. Many have to reduce work hours or leave their jobs due to caregiving responsibilities.

“The responsibilities of caregiving are too great for one person to shoulder alone. Knowing your limits is a real sign of strength,” says Leeza. “When you seek support, stay positive and take care of yourself, you can not only survive, but thrive through the tough road ahead.”

Leeza offers this basic advice for Alzheimer’s caregivers:

Fuel Up. Make sure you eat healthy foods and watch the stress eating. Keep bags of sliced fruit and nuts in the fridge so you can go the distance and have the will power to stay away from the chips and cookies.

Keep moving. Physical exercise is important for overall health. It can be a great way to ward off negative emotions and make you feel more capable.

Be positive. Look forward to every day in a constructive way. Reframe the negative experiences and give up your need to answer “why.” You get to create your own experience by the way you frame it, so be an optimist.

Sleep soundly. Set a bedtime ritual and decompress, fully letting go of the day and forgive yourself and others for what may not have gone well. Take a nap during the day if you need to recharge your batteries. Never apologize when you are at your limit and need a break.

Laugh a lot. Laughter really IS the best medicine, so don’t isolate from your friends and don’t feel guilty for having a good time while someone you love is sick. If you feel better, your loved one will get better care from you.

Help support other Alzheimer’s caregivers by submitting your own caregiving advice at AlzheimersDisease.com. Entries will be accepted until Feb. 29, 2012.

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