Help for those caring for a loved one with memory loss
Living with memory loss is challenging.
Caring for a loved one with any form of the loss – such as Alzheimer’s, dementia and cognitive impairment – can be an equal challenge.
But you aren’t alone. More than 16 million Americans provide unpaid care for family members and friends with Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
More importantly, the toll it can take on you is real. “Family caregivers of people with Alzheimer’s and related dementias are at greater risk for anxiety, depression, and poorer quality of life than caregivers of people with other conditions,” the CDC found.
Many people who care for loved ones with memory loss are physically drained, mentally stressed and financially insecure.
If you care for a loved one with memory problems, you need help too.
Here’s guidance for caregivers to take care of themselves, too:
1. Recognize what you’re up against
Whether you’re a spouse, child, other family member or friend, you face a seemingly never ending rollercoaster in memory loss care.
You’ll have to watch your loved one behave differently and struggle with those changes. You’ll both likely battle confusion, frustration and sadness. Your loved one’s needs will likely increase as his or her skills and memory erode. So the demands on your time, capabilities and financial responsibilities will rise. What’s more, your loved one will become less able to show appreciation for all you do.
On a more positive side, you will likely experience rewarding experiences, too. Caring for a loved one with memory loss is the purest expression of love. At times, it will help bring you closer, resolve differences and deepen your relationships. For many people, caring for a loved one gives them a larger purpose in life, a sense of accomplishment and a new perspective on the gift of life.
2. Recognize how you’re affected
Throughout it all, caregivers tend to focus on how the disease affects their loved one. But it’s critical that you recognize how the situation affects you. That’s the first step so you don’t neglect your needs and you do pursue the support for yourself.
What you’ll face:
- Emotional conflict. You’ll feel an array of emotions – anger, frustration, disbelieve, denial and fear – at your loved one and for yourself. Those conflict with the love, admiration and loyalty you normally feel. That’s OK, understandable and manageable.
- Physical depletion. You’ll likely need to handle tasks your loved one once did. You also likely eventually need to help your loved one move and get through every day tasks such as cleaning him- or herself. These will take a toll on your body, too.
- Mental drain. Caregivers usually have to take full control of decisions they once shared with loved ones, manage care on top of everything else that still needs to be managed and think two steps ahead of their loved one as his or her memory loss progresses. That will lead to sleep deprivation and mental drain.
3. Recognize how to get help
Because of the toll caring for a loved one in the throes of memory loss, it’s more than important you don’t neglect your health. It’s downright critical. If you aren’t physically, emotionally and mentally able to care for your loved one, what happens to both of you?
To maintain your resilience, experts recommend you:
- Tap resources early and often. You can find a multitude of resources and information on memory loss conditions at the Alzheimer’s Association or get immediate help by calling their hotline at 800-272-3900. The Alzheimer’s Foundation of America also offers resources and immediate help at 866-232-8484.
- Ask for help. Don’t be a martyr. Tell others who also love your loved one you’ll need help caring for him or her. Be specific. Explain the kind of help you’ll need – perhaps spending time with the loved one while you take a break, assisting in physical tasks, and/or decision making. Try to let them know when and how often you’ll call on them for help – even if it’s just to be a compassionate sounding board.
- Turn to your trusted expert. Your Friend’s LifeCare Care Coordinator is always a resource for information and help.
- Join a support group. Even when friends and family members pledge to help, you’ll likely benefit from the support of others who experience similar situations as you. You can find some support groups for caregivers of Alzheimer’s patients here. Also ask your loved one’s medical professionals to suggest local groups, which might have activities in your area.
- Hire help. Depending on your finances, you’ll want to get some level of professional help for your loved one, which alleviates pressure on you. Consider these three routes
- Respite care allows you a block of time to rest, exercise, relax and attend to other things you enjoy. Some services offer volunteers or paid help to come into your home while you’re out. Or you can try out-of-home respite programs such as adult day care centers.
- In-home help. You can hire help through agencies from a few hours a week to live-in, round-the-clock care, depending on your needs and resources. They can help with care, housekeeping, errands and socialization.
- Adult day care. Some organizations specialize in memory loss care and offer activities and socialization opportunities so you can continue to work or attend to other things.
- Make time for you. When you have help, use the time on yourself, not on ancillary care for your loved one. Read, journal, walk, meet with friends, practice a hobby, exercise, shop, go to a movie – do what makes YOU happy and allows you to rebound mentally and physically.
- See your doctor. Talk about the struggles you face and ask your care provider for direction on how to best take care of yourself. According to the CDC, doctors can sometimes write a “prescription” for respite services through Medicare’s PACE program. which is available to Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries in some states.
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