Who Takes Care of the Caregiver?
The unique curse of Alzheimer’s is that it ravages several victims for every brain it infects. Since it shuts down the brain very slowly, beginning with higher functions, close friends and loved ones are forced not only to witness an excruciating fade but also increasingly to step in and compensate for lost abilities. We all rely on the assistance of other people in order to live full, rich lives. A person with dementia relies increasingly–and, in the fullness of time, completely–on the care of others.
Caregivers are generally a loved one or relative of the Alzheimer’s sufferer, and as such they are overwhelmed with grief, fatigue and stress from all the chores they are expected to perform. Caregivers work all hours, go days or weeks without a break. And, the stress-induced psychological conditions they suffer can be very, very serious. One estimate has nearly half of all Alzheimer’s caregivers struggling with clinical depression. from The Forgetting by David Shenk
Caring for an Alzheimer’s patient is not the same as a regular nursing assignment. Most caregivers are inexperienced family members who are caring for someone they love without wages and few thanks. Quite often, they also pay for much of the expense that does occur from their own pockets. Neither Medicare nor private Health Insurance covers the type of long-term care that most Alzheimer’s and Dementia patients need.
Caregivers are wives, and husbands, and daughters, and sons who bring their elderly family member into their homes and care for them out of love. The toll on the caregiver is huge. They suffer extreme fatigue, staying up all hours and going days or weeks without a break. So please be aware of such symptoms as :
- feeling overwhelmed
- sleeping too much or too little
- gaining or losing a lot of weight
- feeling tired most of the time
- loss of interest in activities you used to enjoy
- becoming easily irritated or angered
- feeling constantly worried
- often feeling sad
- frequent headaches, bodily pain, or other physical problems
- abuse of alcohol or drugs, including prescription drugs
To prevent such feelings while you take care of a suffering loved one, remember to take care of yourself also! Don’t dismiss your own “feelings!”
How you are feeling matters.
If you see that you’re feeling any of the things in the list above, take a problem-solving view. What can you do to make it better–
- Recognize which problem you can do something about and which ones you can not
- Be realistic about how much you can do
- Forgive yourself – no one is perfect, and we all make mistakes
- Find out which resources are available in your area-Remember the Adult Day Care Centers we discussed in the post about choosing a Nursing Home
- And, most importantly ASK other family members for help
- Try to create a TEAM effort from the family; perhaps rotating days of care among them to allow time off for you
- Keep your sense of humor and find a friend you can talk to–a group meeting would be great if you have one in your area
- Find time for a nap, hot bath, short walk, or something that makes you feel good
If your stress is not relieved by simple measures like those above, see a counselor or mental health professional
If you’re a caregiver for an Alzheimer’s Patient, I understand how you feel and realize how tiring it can become. Sometimes there are books that can be a great help. They encourage you in ways to do important things for yourself, how to accept the different role reversals that take place during care-giving situations, and much more.
One in four families in the U.S. is caring for parents or other senior relatives-and 72% of the primary caregivers in these families are women. This book is written for those 16 million women who are part of the “sandwich generation”-caught between the needs of their elderly relatives and their young families. These women often feel invisible, their own needs unobserved and unappreciated by those around them.
The Caregiver’s Survival Handbook not only offers practical caregiving advice for these women, but also helps them deal with the emotional concerns they face:
€ Dealing with changing parent/child roles
€ Fostering aging parents’ independence
€ Asking for, and getting, help from siblings and other family members
€ Balancing work, family, and caregiving duties
€ Finding time for themselves in the middle of it all