The Alzheimer's Association estimates that there are more than 15 million people serving as caregivers to people with Alzheimer's. The Family Caregiver Alliance states that caregivers are at increased risk for declines in physical and mental health. Furthermore, the Alliance states that women experience worse health effects than men. Finally, an article originally published in the American Journal of Nursing states that caring for someone with dementia causes worse health effects than caring for people with other diseases.
The purpose of this article is to provide 25 tips to help you survive as an Alzheimer's caregiver and avoid some of these negative health effects.
1. Learn what community resources are available: Know where you can get help from the community.
2. Become an educated caregiver: Some useful sites for educating yourself are the Alzheimer's Association and the Alzheimer's Reading Room. Also, attend any caregiving seminars presented in your community.
3. Ask for help - and accept it: Don't be too proud to ask for help. Getting help can make a major difference in your life.
4. Take care of yourself: Try to eat well and exercise regularly.
5. Manage your level of stress: Consider taking a stress management course.
6. Accept changes as they occur: Go with the flow. Your loved one's condition will change frequently.
7. Give yourself credit - not guilt: Make a list of all the things you are doing correctly and look at it frequently.
8. Make legal and financial plans before they are needed: Put your loved ones affairs in order now. Don't wait until it's too late.
9. Visit your doctor regularly: Go to the doctor when you don't feel well and be sure to have all of the recommended health screening tests done.
10. Understand what's happening as early as possible: Read up on Alzheimer's disease so you understand what's happening.
11. Consult a geriatric care manager: Geriatric care managers are specialists who help families care for elderly relatives. They can provide valuable information and resources you will need to help you through these difficult times. Go here for their professional organization's website.
12. Contact the Alzheimer's Association for help: The Alzheimer's Association (www.alz.org) has a 24/7 help line. Just call 1-800-272-3900.
13. Contact the Alzheimer's Foundation of America for help: This organization (alzfdn.org) has a help line operated between 9:00 AM and 5:00 PM Monday through Friday. Call 1-866-232-8484.
14. Study and put into practice "The Caregiver's Bill of Rights:" You can find this document here.
15. See a psychotherapist: If your stress level is very high or if you are feeling depressed, a therapist might be able to help you.
16. Consult with your spiritual leader: If you are a religious person your spiritual leader might also be able to help you.
17. Join a support group: Support groups can be helpful for Alzheimer's caregivers, even if you just listen in.
18. See a family therapist: If there is a lot of conflict among family members consider seeing a family therapist.
19. Keep a journal: Writing about your experiences and feelings every day can also be therapeutic.
20. Learn how to get along better with your loved one: Here are three quick tips: Don't contradict or argue with them, Don't bring up subjects that might upset them, and if they do get upset quickly change the subject. Following these tips will lead to a better relationship.
21. Take up a hobby about which you become passionate: It's important to have time to yourself. Find a hobby you love. It can make a big difference.
22. Overcome Denial: Quit making excuses for your loved one's memory and functioning problems. Admit to yourself that they have Alzheimer's.
23. Make peace with Alzheimer's: After you admit to yourself the person has dementia it's important to truly accept that fact. Learn to love the person just as he or she is.
24. Make peace with God: If you are a religious person, make peace with God for allowing your loved one to have this disease. Pray and, again, consult your spiritual leader.
25. Spend time with people you love: Being with people you love can help recharge your batteries and will improve your quality of life.
NOTES: Tips 1 - 10 are loosely based on a list from the Alzheimer's Association 10 Ways to Manage Stress and Become a Healthier Caregiver. This article originally appeared on the Alzheimer's Reading Room.
Marie Marley is the award-winning author of Come Back Early Today: A Memoir of Love, Alzheimer's and Joy, and the co-author (with neurologist Daniel C. Potts, MD, FAAN) of Finding Joy in Alzheimer's: New Hope for Caregivers. Her website (www.ComeBackEarlyToday.com) contains a wealth of information for Alzheimer's caregivers.