If you’re caring for someone with Alzheimer’s, you are very likely to need support. Alzheimer’s is a devastating illness for the sufferer, but can also place overwhelming demands on the caregiver.
The Alzheimer’s Association reports that nearly three-quarters of Alzheimer’s caregivers struggle to maintain their own health, and a third say their health has suffered as a result of their caregiving. More than half describe the emotional stress of caregiving as high or very high. 40% currently suffer from caregiver depression.
Fortunately, caregiver support is available for those who care for Alzheimer’s patients, and it can make a major difference to the well-being of the whole family.
How Alzheimer’s Caregiver Support Can Help
1. Increase Awareness
Caregiver support, whether in the form of a support group, training program from the Alzheimer's Association, an at-home care service provider or an inpatient care facility, can help you and your family gain a better understanding of Alzheimer’s disease. Increasing your knowledge about the condition has significant benefits, including:
- Education about the disease makes you better able to care for your loved one, and better qualified to manage their symptoms.
- Increasing your awareness helps you to see the challenging behaviors triggered by Alzheimer’s as symptoms, not as part of your loved one. This can be emotionally helpful, enabling you to separate the difficult behavior from your loved one and thus reduce potential resentment and frustration.
- Knowing more about Alzheimer’s and how it progresses helps you to prepare for the future - for instance, knowing that your loved one will reach a point where they are no longer able to make decisions for themselves can prompt you to organize power of attorney while the loved one is still legally competent.
2. Reduce Family Conflicts
When a family member or members take on the care of a loved one with Alzheimer’s, it can produce a high level of conflict. There may be disputes about care decisions or how to divide up the workload. One or more member of the family may feel overwhelmed and unsupported. If you are caring for an elderly parent, your children or spouse may resent the loss of your attention.
Caregiver support can reduce the amount of conflict in the family. By reducing the overwhelming burden of Alzheimer’s caregiving, or delegating tiring responsibilities like day-to-day care, cooking and cleaning for your loved one, caregiver support can also help reduce the tensions that produce arguments. Professional advice on the appropriate care for an Alzheimer’s patient at each stage of the disease can help resolve disputes. Respite care facilities or home care services can free you up to spend time with other family members, thus reducing resentment.
3. Help Prevent Caregiver Depression
Alzheimer’s caregivers are at serious risk of caregiver depression. Symptoms include:
- Feelings of hopelessness, worthlessness or guilt
- Difficulty sleeping
- Changes in appetite and weight
- Loss of pleasure in formerly enjoyable activities
Alzheimer’s caregiver support can stop caregivers from plunging into depression. A support network can help prevent you from feeling isolated. Support resources such as respite care can give you a break from your responsibilities and reduce the strain you are experiencing. Sharing your feelings with a support group can help reduce feelings of guilt. Professional counseling from a mental health professional or social worker can be a very useful way to manage anxiety and recover from depression - or avoid it altogether.
What Types of Support Are Available to Alzheimer’s Caregivers?
1. Support Groups
Support groups can be incredibly helpful for Alzheimer’s caregivers. These groups are usually made up of fellow caregivers of patients with Alzheimer’s, and so they can give you the chance to vent your feelings - even those that make you uncomfortable - in a non-judgmental environment, with people who understand exactly what you’re going through. You can find a complete listing of groups here.
The Alzheimer’s Association also offers an online support group, for caregivers who would struggle to get to an in-person meeting.
2. Legal Support
Alzheimer’s caregivers not only have to cope with their loved one’s physical and mental decline, but also the logistics of managing their illness. Alzheimer’s sufferers will eventually lack the legal capacity to make decisions about their care or manage their own finances - meaning that as a caregiver, you will need to make plans on how to handle their guardianship once they are no longer independent.
An attorney who specializes in elder law may be the best person to advise on issues such as seeking power of attorney, legal guardianship, or a living will. Elder law specialists can be found on the Alzheimer’s Association website here. For information on reduced cost or free legal services, visit LawHelp.
3. At-Home Support Services
Homecare services can be enormously helpful for caregivers. This could be as comprehensive as a full care service, including assisting with all day-to-day activities, cooking, cleaning, and supervising medications - or could simply be a professional who can give you an hour’s break a few times a week.
Many at-home care providers offer overnight stays and can help advise on nutrition management. They usually charge by the hour. Of course, any home support service should be carefully vetted - see here for advice on questions to ask before signing a home support agreement.
If all that you need is some help providing meals to your loved one, consider contacting a meal service provider - some are even free.
4. Day Care Services
Adult day care services can offer a welcome respite from the daily grind of caregiving. These centers provide a safe and enjoyable setting for people whose disabilities make them unable to care for themselves. Depending on your needs, they may just give you a few hours to yourself, or provide consistent care for your loved one while you work. For advice on selecting a center and a list of centers in your area, visit the National Adult Day Services Association website.
5. Alzheimer’s Care Facilities
There may come a time when your loved one needs more care than you and your family are able to offer. At that time, you might wish to consider an Alzheimer’s care facility. These facilities guarantee your loved one 24-hour supervision and support, with specialist staff who can ensure that they receive the very best in emotional, medical and physical care. They often offer social or recreational activities designed for Alzheimer’s patients, as well as family support programs and therapy for your emotional needs.
Caring for someone with Alzheimer’s can be a daunting, exhausting, and overwhelming challenge - but you don’t have to go it alone. There are a wealth of resources available to give you and your family the support you need at this very difficult time. If you would like our help looking after a loved one with Alzheimer’s, please contact Rehab Select today and we’ll get back to you within 24 hours.