Caregivers take on an increasingly challenging role when assisting one of the estimated 5.4 million Alzheimer’s patients in the United States. To meet this challenge and maintain health and equilibrium, it is important to be aware of help available during every phase of the patient’s journey. Whether providing care for an individual in the early, middle or late stages of the disease, an awareness of Alzheimer’s caregiver resources is important.
In the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease, the caregiver’s role may most closely resemble that of companion, providing company and support. This relationship, particularly if the patient is a close relative or loved one, will be difficult to navigate. Memory impairment during this phase can require help with day-to-day information about appointments, household tasks and social engagements. Some patients may require assistance with names and faces, including those of doctors, friends and even family.
Every exchange can be fraught with frustration, anger and sadness as it becomes clear that the relationship can never be as it was before. Emotional support for the primary caretaker is crucial at this stage, and joining a local support group or reaching out to a helpline can prove beneficial. There are in-person meetings, online groups and printed materials available to share ideas and solutions for patient care while maintaining the health and well-being of the care provider.
As Alzheimer’s disease progresses, new challenges will be presented to the caretaker. As a patient requires additional care, there are practical issues to address alongside the psychological and emotional factors. The patient may need help with bathing, dressing, grooming and eating; he may experience nighttime awakenings or nightmares. Wandering may be a problem during this phase of the disease, and it is important that caregivers are aware of products and services available to aid them. Safety is a primary concern, and items such as special door locks, anti-scald devices, motion detector alarms and electric plug covers can relieve caregiver worry and stress.
As the patient slips further into the disease, caregivers may experience grief, anxiety, depression and feelings of helplessness. It is important to make personal health a priority, making time for relaxation, exercise and healthy eating. Meditation, yoga and visualization techniques have all been proven to lower stress and even reduce blood pressure; laughing at comedy films and television can be therapeutic. There are adult day services available to provide a much-needed break, necessary for even the most resilient of caregivers.
Being aware of Alzheimer’s caregiver resources is an important component of dealing with the entire spectrum of the disease, and taking care of the caretaker should be a priority when planning the patient’s long-term care.
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