Taking care of a loved one who needs memory care is never easy, but for the 15 million Americans who provide care for someone with Alzheimer's disease, the emotional and financial toll of caregiving can be overwhelming.
Last year, caregivers provided more than 17 billion hours of unpaid care for memory care patients, amounting to $216 billion of care, according to the Alzheimer's Association. They often experience emotional stress, depression, health problems of their own and a loss of wages, the Association reports.
It's important for caregivers to take care of themselves as well, and to help those they care for find treatment options that can make it easier for both patient and caretaker to better manage Alzheimer's symptoms.
Just as there is no one solution for managing Alzheimer's symptoms, caregivers need to employ a suite of tactics in coping with their responsibilities - from stress-relieving habits and regular medical care for themselves, as well education about nutritional therapy and medication for patients.
Caregivers should keep in mind that helping themselves stay well is also helping the people for whom they're caring. If you're taking care of a loved one with Alzheimer's disease, here are some ways you can help both yourself and the person in your care:
- Therapy to mitigate symptoms - Coping with common symptoms of Alzheimer's disease such as disorientation, forgetfulness and emotional imbalances are among the most stressful aspects of caregiving. Helping patients mitigate those symptoms can improve the quality of life for both the patient and caregiver. Some medications show promise in helping reduce symptoms.
- Seek support - Caregivers provide a tremendous amount of support for both patients and those who love them, but they can use support too. If you are a caregiver, join a support group where you can connect with people whose experiences and emotions parallel your own. Don't be afraid to ask for help from family and friends, too.
- Keep an organized schedule - Routine can be very comforting for Alzheimer's disease patients, and a schedule can help caregivers stay on track and feel less stressed by day-to-day demands. Online calendars or apps for your mobile device can help you keep a schedule and stay organized. Be sure to schedule in some time to give yourself a break, along with doctor's appointments and medication timings.
- Avoid isolation - Withdrawal from society is common among dementia patients and can take a toll on those caring for them. Caregivers can feel isolated, too. It's important to connect with others. Seek social interaction that will benefit you and your loved one with memory care needs.
- Keep things in perspective – There are five key things to remember: Don't take behaviors personally; stay calm and patient; realize pain can be a trigger for behavior; don't argue; and accept upsetting behaviors as part of the disease. Remember, your loved one can't control his or her disease, but you can control your reaction to disease-related behaviors.
Beatrice Daily Sun